Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Wooden Sword

The Wooden Sword: A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan
written by Ann Redisch Stampler; illustrated by Carol Liddiment
2012 (Albert Whitman and Company)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

A good shah, suffering from sleeplessness, looks out his window and wonders if the people he rules are happy or sad. He slips into servant's clothes and walks to the poorest section of the poorest street. The shah sees a happy young Jewish shoemaker and his wife. He wonders why they are full of joy so he knocks on the door to find out. The shoemaker offers some of his meager portions to the disguised shah and explains his happiness. He gives credit to God and says "everything turns out just as it should." The shah is impressed but he has doubts about the faith of the shoemaker. To test the young man, the shah creates a decree that no longer can you repair shoes in the street. The shoemaker's wife is discouraged, but the young man smiles and replies "everything turns out just as it should." He sees water being sold on the street and inquires of the water carrier if he could earn money doing such a chore. Sure enough, the ex-shoemaker starts his new occupation and earns enough puli to buy dinner. The shah, in disguise, is pleased, but still doubting so he puts another obstacle in the way. Despite the roadblocks set in his way, this man refuses to lose his faith and optimism. His strength and cleverness eventually lead to great reward.

When you want to teach vocabulary related to character, picture books like The Wooden Sword are a great resource. I would teach the word resilient in relation to this shoemaker. His great attitude could be a model for children dealing with everyday problems. A lesson on the sequence of story events could also be taught with this text. Folklore often features characters who are clever and can roll with the punches. The Wooden Sword, with its Afghan setting, offers a rich opportunity to read about such a character in a culture not featured often in picture books.

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