Riding a Donkey Backwards
Wise and Foolish Tales of Mulla Nasruddin
Retold by Sean Taylor and Khayaal Theatre, illustrated by Shirin Adl
I first came across stories of Nasruddin, a comic figure in Islamic folklore many years ago and often used them as assembly stories so was delighted to get this collection of tales so beautifully illustrated by Shirin Adl.
Sean Taylor is a superb storyteller and here he has collaborated with Khayaal, a theatre and drama education company to bring twenty-one of the tales to youngsters in the UK. The result is a cracking collection that is guaranteed to make you chuckle your way through from start to finish not to mention your audience.
First comes an introduction wherein we’re told Mulla Nasruddin is a trickster and a few other snippets of information about him, one being that he likes to ride his donkey backwards; Nasruddin provides the answer at the back of the book.
All the stories are very short, ‘Tell Me One Thing’ being only three lines long but there’s wisdom and humour in each one.
It’s difficult to choose a favourite today though the three that suited my mood best were:
‘What Are You Doing?’ wherein we discover why the Mulla was spooning yogurt into a lake …
‘Drawing a Blank’ a story telling how when Nasruddin was a schoolboy, he fell asleep in class having been asked to draw something and came up with a quick- witted response to his teacher’s expression of displeasure at the lad’s blank page.
The third, ‘A Cow up a Pole‘ shows Nasruddin’s foolish side: he’d managed to save some money and was concerned to find a safe place to hide it, eventually putting his purse full of money at the top of a very long pole in his garden.
However someone had seen what he was doing, stolen the purse and left a lump of cow dung in its place. Nasruddin’s reaction some weeks later on discovering the dung where his purse should have been was, “How on earth did a cow manage to climb up a pole?”
Ask me again on another day and I may well choose different stories.
If you’ve never come across Mulla Nasruddin before, then this is the perfect collection to start with. They’re just right for classroom use across a wide age range as well as great to share as a family. The tellings are enormous fun and Shirin Ald’s humorous collage illustrations an absolute delight; don’t miss the splendid Islamic tessellation style endpapers