Sharon Elswit, author of The Jewish Story Finder, now resides in San Francisco, where she has been helping students visiting 826 Valencia locations around the city to write stories and poems and getting adults up and retelling Jewish folktales to share with their own spin.
Joha Makes a Wish: A Middle Eastern Tale
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.
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