Tales From the Arabian Nights
written by Donna Jo Napoli; illustrated by Christina Balit
2016 (National Geographic)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
There is nothing complacent or provincial in these stories. Rather, there is a hunger for the unknown and a desire to be part of something larger.
Scheherazade, the vizier's daughter, has a tall order in front of her. She has a tremendous heart and it is breaking while watching the daily brides of Shah Rayar lose their lives. The Shah suffers from the pain inflicted by his first wife not being faithful, so he has placed his anger onto all women. It is her father's job to find a new bride each day, so Scheherazade knows first hand the danger she is walking into. But she does so bravely and comes with a plan. Each night, she will tell a tale that will keep Shah Rayar intrigued enough to keep her around for another night. She starts with The Tale of The Merchant & The Jinni. A merchant is relaxing next to a spring and casually throws away the pits of the dates that he has been eating. Suddenly, he finds himself face to face with a sword-wielding jinni (genie) who accuses him of killing his son with one of the airborne date pits. Seeing how he won't be able to persuade the jinni of his innocence, the merchant asks for permission to put his affairs in order and return for his fatal judgment by the jinni. When the merchant returns to meet the jinni, three sheikhs wander by and each vowed to stand by their new friend as certain doom is on its way. This tale leads to three more nights of tales featuring each sheikh, which showcase Scheherazade's skill as a storyteller and how she plans ahead in order to keep herself alive.
Donna Jo Napoli skillfully presents a selection of the original stories. Some of the stories will seem familiar to adults, like Aladdin, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Sinbad the Sailor but others will be completely new to most readers. These are classic tales that young readers will probably not be aware of, so I really like that Napoli has put these together for a new audience. I also appreciate the nonfiction text boxes that appear frequently throughout the stories. These boxes give insight into the culture where these tales came from. The illustrations are beautiful with mosaic designs throughout. Tales From the Arabian Nights will dazzle readers both young and old.