Joha finds a magic stick and learns that you don’t always get what you wish for
Horn Book MagazineAs he explains in a note, Kimmel has created an original tale, adapting a Yemenite story ("The Answered Prayer") to the traditional Arabic "Joha" motif concerning a wise fool-e.g., Nasreddin Hoja and, possibly, Cervantes's Sancho Panza. Here, Joha finds a wishing stick on his way to Baghdad. Unfortunately, it works by contraries: instead of new shoes, it makes his old ones vanish; wishing for a donkey to carry him results in poor Joha's carrying the unwilling beast. Only after inadvertently multiplying the warts on the end of the Sultan's nose does Joha encounter a man wise enough to tell him he's holding the stick upside down. Thus, Joha can undo its latest mischief and mollify the Sultan, though-like the couple in "The Three Wishes," whose grand expectations boil down to a sausage for supper-Joha's hopes are dashed once more. Still, he ends up with the now-compliant donkey. Kimmel narrates with his usual wit and panache, nicely extended in Rayyan's watercolor illustrations, where humorously exaggerated characters are realized in tastefully muted colors while the action bursts energetically from elegant frames. A fine choice for storytelling.
School Library JournalGr 1–3—Joha's wishes go awry, thanks to improper use of a magic stick he accidentally finds while walking to Baghdad. Kimmel recasts a Jewish tale from Yemen, borrowing story elements from widespread Middle Eastern folklore featuring the foolish wise man, aka Nasreddin Hodja. Kimmel's introductory note doesn't explain his choice of the lesser-known name "Joha" for the character. Perhaps he's melding the Arabic Juha and the Egyptian Goha for his own spin on the affable trickster. The story here is much more fully developed than the usually small Hodja/Goha episodes. In spite of Joha's angry efforts to rid himself of the troublesome stick, it tightly adheres to his hand, causing much worse trouble when he encounters the sultan in the streets of Baghdad. Kimmel's well-paced text smoothly builds events and dialogue, leaving the character interpretation to the comic portrayals in Rayyan's energetic watercolors. Joha is a small man with large hands and feet and a long, thin expressive face beneath a generous turban. His frayed sandals and patched trousers contrast with the splendor of the robust sultan and his armored guards. Joha's misadventures and the trouble he causes the sultan depart liberally from their folklore and cultural roots but offer an enjoyable escapade demonstrating that universal scheme of the unwitting little guy getting the better of those in power. The wishing scheme and fulsome pictures promise read-aloud fun.—Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston
Children's Literature - Paula McMillenAn author's note at the front of the book explains the Middle Eastern origins of this adaptation of a "wise fool" tale. Joha accidentally discovers a wishing stick in a sealed jar at an old ruin, but finds that everything he wishes for brings exactly the opposite outcome. He decides to keep his mouth shut and not wish for anything, but still gets in trouble, for the local sultan is passing in a caravan and everyone is supposed to wish him long life. Joha explains his run of bad wishes, but the sultan insists that Joha try just a small wish, like making the wart on the sultan's nose disappear. The reader can imagine where things go from there. Joha runs away and is hidden from the sultan's guards by a local book shop owner, who eventually points out that Joha has been holding the wish stick upside down. When Joha goes to the sultan to make amends, the sultan takes the wish stick for his own use. Apparently the sultan never does learn the right way to hold the wish stick since we see him living as a beggar at the end of the story. The water color illustrations are not only beautifully rendered, but full of movement and emotion. This story can introduce young readers to a discussion about the role of folk tales and give them a glimpse into those from another culture. The option to predict what will happen on the next page will make for lively classroom interaction. Reviewer: Paula McMillen, Ph.D.
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