Clever Ali

Overview

Three-time Newbery Honor Book author Nancy Farmer joins bestselling artist Gail de Marcken in this enchanting, original tale told in the tradition of the Arabian Nights.

Ali is finally old enough to join his father in tending pigeons for the evil Sultan of Cairo. The boy is given a pet pigeon, but warned NEVER to feed it too much, lest it become spoiled and lazy. But Ali feels sorry for his hungry pet and disobeys. When the overfed bird becomes greedy and ruins a plate of the ...

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Overview

Three-time Newbery Honor Book author Nancy Farmer joins bestselling artist Gail de Marcken in this enchanting, original tale told in the tradition of the Arabian Nights.

Ali is finally old enough to join his father in tending pigeons for the evil Sultan of Cairo. The boy is given a pet pigeon, but warned NEVER to feed it too much, lest it become spoiled and lazy. But Ali feels sorry for his hungry pet and disobeys. When the overfed bird becomes greedy and ruins a plate of the Sultan's cherries, Ali is in big trouble! Now he has only three days to replace the Sultan's 600 cherries from the snowy mountains of Syria. Only then can he save his father from the dreaded Oubliette: a deep pit where a giant demon is waiting!

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Farmer's (The House of the Scorpion) pleasing tale set in long-ago Cairo, Ali's father holds a crucial position as the Sultan's pigeon keeper. The pigeons carry messages across Egypt to and from the ruler. When Ali overfeeds one of the birds, chaos results, and the boy must come up with a plan to save his father from certain death in the Sultan's "deep, dark oubliette." The Sultan demands 600 cherries within three days (that "only come by swift ship from the snowy mountains of Syria"). Ali uses the pigeons in an ingenious plan to complete the task. Farmer bases her tale in part on an actual 12th-century ruler who craved fresh cherries from Syria and received them via 600 pigeons. The repetition of phrases recalls the oral tradition, though the book's lengthy narrative may deter read-alouds. Resembling a fable in some parts, historical fiction in others, the tale offers glimpses of this ancient culture (e.g., Ali's father has two wives; men and women live in separate quarters). De Marcken's (The Quiltmaker's Gift) watercolors take on the richness and palette of silks. She incorporates Arabic script in the borders and Islamic mosaics behind many of the text blocks. While the story contains several morals, the upbeat surprise ending ensures that they do not feel heavy-handed. All ages. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
On turning seven, Ali takes "the first step on the long road that leads to manhood." He must move into the men's part of the house and learn about pigeons with his father, the Keeper of Pigeons for the wicked Sultan of Cairo. Ali is afraid, but says nothing. So begins the saga that leads to the training of his own pigeon, Othman—who, most importantly, Ali must never feed too much. Forget all of Nancy Farmer's honors. One only need read this slim story to realize she is a consummate writer. Farmer effortlessly describes the cultural differences (the living arrangement between two wives and one husband; the separation between sexes of housing and meals). Her word choices, turns of phrasing, and use of repetition are perfection. The resulting story is sly, and Ali clever indeed. But wait—the book is prefaced with an irresistible excerpt from the medieval intellectual Al-Jahiz's "In Praise of Books," and the whole is illustrated with wonderful thought and grace by Gail de Marcken's lovely watercolor pictures and Arabic marginal notations. It is a beautiful book.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 4-Farmer presents an imaginative tale based on a true story about a 12th-century Egyptian ruler, Al-Azeez. Ali, at age seven, works with his father taking care of messenger pigeons for the Sultan of Cairo, a harsh and wicked man. He is given a young bird to train, and although he has been warned that the animal will become "spoiled and selfish" if fed too much, he still sneaks Othman sweets. When the greedy pigeon disrupts the Sultan's feast of rare cherries, the cruel man threatens to throw Ali's father into the oubliette, a dark hole leading down to the domain of an enormous yellow-eyed demon. Ali has three days to replace the 600 cherries and save his father. Vivid watercolors depict the characters and the setting and lend atmosphere to the action. Readers will be especially impressed with the dramatic, fiery-red illustration of the demon surrounded by his jewels. Intricate patterns decorate the pages and appear behind text boxes. De Marcken's endnote explains that these designs have been copied "from Cairo's mosques and Islamic antiquities," giving the art an authentic Arabic flavor. Throughout, elegant borders feature the words of al-J hiz's "In Praise of Books" (a poem presented at the tale's beginning) written in the Kufic form of Arabic. This beautifully written story is a treat for the eyes and ears.-Blair Christolon, Prince William Public Library System, Manassas, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Ali has turned seven years old, and has taken the first step on the road to manhood: He's learning to be a royal pigeon-keeper like his father. Every morning, Ali and his father set out through the streets of Cairo to the palace of the wicked and cruel Sultan. There, father cares for all of the Sultan's pigeons and Ali cares for one, whom he names Othman. Father has only one rule for Ali: never to overfeed Othman or he will become spoiled and selfish. But Ali saves all of his desserts for Othman, because the pigeon loves them so. Alas, greedy Othman steals a cherry from the dreaded Sultan, and clever Ali must use all his wits to avoid being thrown into the Sultan's demon-inhabited oubliette. De Marcken's jewel-like watercolors adorned with Arabic calligraphy and mosaic patterns are well suited to this sweet and gently humorous tale. Though the text is lengthy for this format, it is replete with silly sound effects for a fun one-on-one read-aloud. (Picture book. 4-6)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780439370141
  • Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/1/2006
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 40
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Lexile: 670L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 11.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Nancy Farmer
Nancy Farmer
A former chemistry teacher and insect pathology technician who grew up in a quirky hotel on the Arizona/Mexican border, Nancy Farmer's futurisic, fantastical adventures -- like the 2002 National Book Award Winner The House of the Scorpion -- are clearly a reflection of a happily unconventional life.

Biography

Born in Phoenix, Arizona and raised in a quirky hotel on the outskirts of Mexico, Farmer's unconventional upbringing around such types as rodeo wranglers and circus travelers all but guaranteed the unique and colorful life that was to follow.

After receiving her B.A. degree from Oregon's Reed College 1963, Farmer enlisted in the Peace Corps in India where she served from 1963 to 1965. From 1969 to 1971, she found herself immersed in the study of chemistry at Merritt College in Oakland, California and later at the University of California at Berkeley from 1969 to 1971. However, her wanderlust eventually took her to Africa, where she labored as a lab technician in Zimbabwe from 1975 to 1978. There, she met Harold, her husband-to-be, who was an English teacher at the University; after a weeklong courtship, they were engaged. Happily married ever since, they have a son, Daniel.

On how she decided to become a writer, Farmer explained in an interview with the Educational Paperback Association, "When Daniel was four, while I was reading a novel, the feeling came over me that I could create the same kind of thing. I sat down almost in a trance and produced a short story. It wasn't good, but it was fun. I was forty years old." She continues, "Since that time I have been absolutely possessed with the desire to write. I can't explain it, only that everything up to then was a preparation for my real vocation."

Her first book, Do You Know Me?, an adventure for young people set in Zimbabwe, was soon to follow this epiphany. The book was well-received by kids and critics alike, and Publishers Weekly praised Farmer for providing "a most interesting window on a culture seldom seen in children's books."

Her follow-up, The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, was named an Newbery Award Honor Book in 1995, and also honored as a Notable Book and a Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association, and an Honor Book by the Golden Kite Awards, awarded by the Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators. Most recently, The House of the Scorpion won the 2002 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

Good To Know

A former chemistry teacher, one of Farmer's first jobs was as an insect pathology technician. Said farmer in an interview with the Educational Paperback Association, "I had never taken entomology. All I knew was that bugs had more legs than cows, but my boss wanted someone who wouldn't talk back to him."

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    1. Hometown:
      Menlo Park, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 9, 1941
    2. Place of Birth:
      Phoenix, Arizona
    1. Education:
      B.A., Reed College, 1963

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