Arabic Folktales: The Three Princes of Serendip & Other Stories

Arabic Folktales: The Three Princes of Serendip & Other Stories
retold by Rodaan Al Galidi (trans. Laura Watkinson), illustrated by Geertje Aalders
Walker Books

This is a collection of stories Rodaan Al Galidi has garnered from his childhood, from history and from literature, universal stories that belong to everyone, rewritten in his own style. Through tales such as these we find the commonalities among humankind.

Having said that, it’s probably true to say that there’s something for all interests in this gorgeously illustrated offering of twenty short tales. Some feature animals: an ant and a cockroach debate whether hard work and preparation are more important than doing things that make you happy;

a group of turtles endeavour to get a visiting partridge to change his lifestyle and remain on their island always; and an arrogant rooster learns that he’s not as indispensable as he’d always thought; and, a lion, a wolf and a fox discover that they have different views about sharing their hunting spoils.

Humans too have much to learn, not least regarding perceptions: upset as a result of boys calling her ugly, a beautiful girl retreats inside her grandmother’s home. In response her grandmother tells her of a father, his son, and a donkey travelling to Baghdad. The man rode, the son walked, and people thought it was disgraceful that the father was not more caring for the boy. Hearing their comments father and son change places before reaching the next village. I’m sure you can already imagine where this story is going …
There’s a tale about finding a way to eat with a spoon three feet long (one I’ve used in school assemblies from time to time) that demonstrates the difference between merely having love on your lips and having love in your heart too.

The title page of each story has a gorgeous cut paper design surround and further beautiful illustrations, some exquisitely detailed, are woven into the fabric of every tale by the hand of Geertje Aalders. These help readers and listeners conjure up ideas of the setting the author uses for each of his tellings although in his introduction is this: ‘Feel free to change the names or to choose other flowers, waters, windows or doors. … stories are the best migrants and the finest travellers. Let these stories become your own.’ Assisting readers of English to do exactly that is Laura Watkinson the translator, who like the illustrator, lives in the Netherlands.

Ancient though folktales may be, they contain much that is relevant in today’s world and I’d wholeheartedly recommend adding this book to your shelves at home or at school.

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