Joha Makes a Wish: A Mid­dle East­ern Tale

Eric A. Kim­mel; Omar Rayyan, illus.
  • Review
By – September 9, 2011
Eric Kim­mel is a mas­ter at reshap­ing and adapt­ing folk­lore from dif­fer­ent cul­tures to tell a good sto­ry. He has expand­ed the audi­ence for Jew­ish tales beyond Jew­ish chil­dren. In his award-win­ning orig­i­nal sto­ry about the leg­endary Jew­ish trick­ster Her­shel of Ostropol, Kim­mel added the excite­ment of gob­lins for Her­shel to out­wit. In The Jar of Fools, he set uni­ver­sal fools along with Chelmites in the town of Chelm and moved all the action to occur dur­ing Hanukkah. Joha Makes a Wish is a new pic­ture book blend. It places the char­ac­ter of a wise fool from Ara­bic and Jew­ish cul­tures in a ver­sion of the Jew­ish Yemenite sto­ry The Answered Prayer.” In that folk­tale, all of a poor man’s prayers are answered in the oppo­site, until, pressed by the prince to save his wife, the man con­scious­ly prays for the reverse of what is desired. In Kimmel’s sto­ry, wish­es have the oppo­site effect because poor Joha is hold­ing a mag­ic stick upside down until an old shop­keep­er points this out. Char­ac­ters from both sto­ries are able to ride home on the don­key they wished for in the first place. Though the tra­di­tion­al Joha is main­ly out there for him­self, this Joha’s deci­sion to do the right thing — to go back to fix the sultan’s nose that his wish has messed up — makes for a sat­is­fy­ing end­ing. Although there is noth­ing in words that says that this Joha might not be a Jew on his way to Bagh­dad, Rayyan’s detailed, plen­ti­ful, and broad­ly com­i­cal illus­tra­tions seem to clothe Joha in cus­tom­ary Arab dress. Here Kim­mel has meld­ed a tra­di­tion­al Mid­dle East­ern char­ac­ter with a tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish tale to tell a humor­ous sto­ry for gen­er­al children’s col­lec­tions. For ages 5 – 8.

Sharon Elswit, author of The Jew­ish Sto­ry Find­er, now resides in San Fran­cis­co, where she shares tales aloud in a local JCC preschool and vol­un­teers with 826 Valen­cia to help stu­dents write their own sto­ries and poems.

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