How Many Donkeys?: An Arabic Counting Tale
retold by Margaret Read MacDonald and Nadia Jameel Taibah
illustrated by Carol Liddiment
2009 (Albert Whitman) 2012: paperback released
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
Jouha is an endearing figure in Middle Eastern folklore. As explained in the prologue of this book, he is a mix of wisdom and foolishness. In How Many Donkeys?, he is preparing to go to the market to sell dates. As he walks through the sandy valleys, Jouha feels like he is a lucky man with ten donkeys to his name. Along the bottom of the page are the names of the numbers 1-10, which are written from right to left as is customary with Arabic text. As Jouha sits on a donkey, he looks back and counts again. This time he only counts nine and pronounces himself to be an unlucky man. After dismounting, Jouha counts again and sees that he indeed has ten donkeys. This scenario will be repeated throughout the book as Jouha constantly forgets to count the donkey on which he is sitting. It will be interesting to see at what point younger readers will be able to infer where Jouha is going wrong with his counting. At the end of the book, Jouha realizes when he is making the counting mistake, but his logic as to why may be up for debate. He states "It's better to walk than to lose a donkey."
A counting book with a connected story is a great opportunity to introduce a piece of folklore from the Middle East. Students will be able to relate to Jouha since they, like their teacher, are often searching for missing things. I like the exposure to a different culture and yet being able to find similarities between our worlds. There is a piece of Jouha in all of us and that is part of the reason why he is a well liked character. How Many Donkeys? will also make for a fun shared reading experience as students repeat the numbers in Arabic.