The Wood­en Sword: A Jew­ish Folk­tale from Afghanistan

Ann Redisch Stam­pler; Car­ol Lid­di­ment, illus.

  • Review
By – August 7, 2012

Friend­ly eye con­tact between char­ac­ters riv­ets read­ers’ atten­tion in this warm retell­ing of a tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish folk­tale where a good shah tests a poor man’s faith by throw­ing road­blocks in his path. The shah is curi­ous to learn how the man will man­age. Decrees stop the shoe­mak­er from being able to mend shoes in the street, then from being able to car­ry water or cut wood. The cheer­ful shoe­mak­er is con­fi­dent that God is with him and that he will dis­cov­er a new way to earn a liv­ing. Each day, the resource­ful shoe­mak­er finds new work. Each night, the shah in dis­guise stops by to see how his friend is doing. The read­er knows every­thing will turn out as it should,” but there is the breath-hold­ing moment when the shah has the shoe­mak­er draft­ed into his roy­al guard where he will not receive pay for an entire month. The shoe­mak­er sells the sil­ver sword he has been giv­en and replaces it with one made of wood, so that he and his wife will be able to eat. The next day, upon the shah’s com­mand, the leader of the guard tells the poor man that he will need to exe­cute a thief. The shoe­mak­er prays and comes up with a solu­tion so per­fect that the shah takes him on as roy­al adviser.

Gen­er­ous, full-col­or paint­ings set the scene in an Afghani commu­nity. Hap­pi­ness, a rug, cloth, and pil­lows col­or the poor shoemaker’s home; it does not look bleak. Sub­tle details in both text and art — the dif­fer­ence in head cov­er­ings, the men­tion of two Sab­bath lamps, and the sub­ti­tle of the book — let the read­ers know that this pious shoe­mak­er is Jew­ish. In a full page at the end, Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award win­ner Stam­pler describes the research and care that went into her retelling. It shows.

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.

Discussion Questions