The Wooden Sword: A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan






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Publication: The Horn Book Magazine
Author: Gershowitz, Elissa
Date published: March 1, 2012

The Wooden Sword: A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan by Ann Redisch Stampler; illus. by Carol Liddiment Primary Whitman 32 pp. 3/12 978-0-8075-9201-4 $16.99 g

One night when the shah can't sleep, he disguises himself as a servant and takes to the streets of old Kabul. He comes upon a Jewish shoemaker and his wife celebrating the Sabbath. The shoemaker invites the shah in to share the family meal. Though the shoemaker makes barely enough money to survive, he's rich in faith: "If one path is blocked, God leads me to another, and everything turns out just as it should." The shah decides to test the man's belief. First he outlaws shoe repair, then he prohibits water peddling (the resourceful man's second employ), and finally he forces him to act as palace executioner. Because we're told from the start that the ruler is a "good shah" and that he "would let no harm befall the poor man," readers can be fairly certain that, even as the stakes escalate, no one's head will roll. (Stampler's author's note discusses versions in which the power-wielding figure is less benevolent.) Liddiment's rich-hued paintings highlight the characters' goodheartedness while carefully incorporating many culture-specific details and motifs; the vibrant patterns and lush costumes play well against the desert backdrop. At the end of the story, everything has turned out "just as it should" for the shah, who gains wise council from the man, and for the former shoemaker himself, whose faith and ingenuity remain steadfast. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

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