Riding a Donkey Backwards: Wise and Foolish Tales of Mulla Nasruddin

Candlewick. Aug. 2019. 48p. retold by Taylor, Sean & The Khayaal Theatre Company, retel. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781536205077.
K-Gr 3–Humor, trickery, wisdom, and advice—sage and otherwise—infuse this collection of 21 brief tales starring Mulla Nasruddin, a beloved iconic character of Muslim folklore. The simple, clipped narrations are witty and conversational in tone, facilitating successful reading by the target audience and easy-to-comprehend listening (this is a fine readaloud for groups). As is true for many anthologies, the quality of the collection is uneven. Some stories are more fully developed than others; in some selections, punch lines may not be as comprehensible; and morals, where they exist, may seem more obscure. Overall, however, the tales succeed, despite the brevity of some (the two shortest stories comprise a mere three and four sentences, respectively), and humor shines through. The colorful, energetic, and often comical mixed media collages are a draw. Characters’ attire, home furnishings and decorations, architectural details, and landscapes suggest a Middle Eastern milieu. Text set against colored background pages heightens visual attractiveness. Additionally, the artwork is notable for inclusiveness, as characters’ skin tones are depicted in various shades of brown. A short glossary is included.
VERDICT Recommended for schools and public libraries. Students may enact and/or illustrate favorite stories or create original Nasruddin tales. Pair the stories with others about tricksters/wise men/fools from other cultures, e.g., Anansi, the Wise Men of Chelm, etc., and have children compare and contrast

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