One City, Two Brothers

Chris Smith; Aurélia Fron­ty, illus.
  • Review
By – March 2, 2012
When two broth­ers come to Solomon with a dis­pute about land inher­i­tance, the king tells them the sto­ry of two oth­er broth­ers who secret­ly trans­fer grain, each from his own stock to add to his brother’s store­house in the night. In the morn­ing, they are puz­zled and dis­mayed to find their own stores undi­min­ished and, the next night, try again. On the third night, each bear­ing more sacks of grain for the oth­er, they meet and embrace. This spot becomes the site of the holy tem­ple and the very city of Jerusalem. The leg­end about Jerusalem has been wide­ly told in Eng­lish col­lec­tions of Jew­ish folk­lore for gen­er­a­tions. What makes this telling dif­fer­ent is that Smith, who spent time work­ing in Gaza and the West Bank, now casts it as a Pales­tin­ian Arab tale. He steps neu­tral­ly through the nar­ra­tive, except that God is not men­tioned as bless­ing the spot where the two broth­ers meet. No syn­a­gogues are present in any of the city scapes. Aster­isks appear near prop­er names, such as Solomon, where Mus­lim read­ers might want to add may peace be upon him.” The pro­duc­tion is cer­tain­ly love­ly. State­ly Arab broth­ers move through acrylic blues and greens and reds that fill each page with rich col­or and sim­ply illu­mi­nate the action. Smith took lib­er­ty to wrap the sto­ry of two lov­ing broth­ers with­in the frame of two squab­blers, which rein­forces the theme of shar­ing. With his best wish­es for peace, it is also unfor­tu­nate that Smith gives no sources for his claims in the after­ward that this sto­ry belongs to both Arabs and Jews. Was it first told by an Arab farmer to a trav­el­er? Is it now told by Arabs who live around Jerusalem? Right now, with Waldman’s and Freedman’s pic­ture books out of print, this is the only illus­trat­ed retelling of the tale. It is a beau­ti­ful tale of unselfish­ness, though not pre­sent­ed here as a Jew­ish one. For ages 4 – 8.

Sharon Elswit, author of The Jew­ish Sto­ry Find­er and a school librar­i­an for forty years in NYC, 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.

Discussion Questions