Get the Backstory! Tales of the Arabian Nights

BookendsLynn: I try not to be a curmudgeon, but there are a few things about contemporary life that I deeply deplore. One of them is the loss of cultural stories. It isn’t possible to booktalk to kids and not be hit over the head with the fact that so many of them don’t know classic tales. We have a plethora of charming clever books and series that are based on fairytales, legends and folklore. Kids love them, but they don’t know the backstory! In order to booktalk Susan Fletcher’s wonderful Shadow Spinner (1999) for example, I found it necessary to first give a brief summary of Scheherazade and the Arabian Nights, since most of our audience had never heard of it.

Tales from the Arabian Nights by Donna Jo NapoliSo I tip my hat to Donna Jo Napoli and National Geographic, who’ve been publishing beautiful books of myths, legends, and folktales. The most recent is The Tales from the Arabian Nights: Stories of Adventure, Magic, Love and Betrayal (2016), gorgeously illustrated by Christina Balit. Napoli carefully chose 45 of the 1,001 tales and retold them in simple yet evocative language. A generation raised on Disney films will recognize some of the tales, and the sheer power of the storytelling will sweep them along through the rest. As each story concludes, one more piece of Scheherazade’s own story is added. And really, it simply isn’t possible to beat the sheer drama of the high-stakes premise of this important literary treasure. Scheherazade fights for her own life, the lives of the young women of her country and the soul of the Shah.

Napoli has also included interesting factual tidbits in sidebars designed to enhance reader’s understanding of the period and the stories. A Postscript, a beautifully designed map of the Middle East and extensive and appealing bibliography round out this eye-catching volume. This is a must-have for collections and young readers everywhere.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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