The Wisdom Bird: A Tale of Solomon and Sheba


King Soloman is wise, the wisest man in the world. One day, the Queen of Sheba--the wisest woman in the world--arrives at the gates of Jerusalem. She has come form a faraway land to see Solomon put this wisdom to work. "Name anything," says the king. What the queen asks of Solomon is startling. To fulfill her request, he must change the birds of the sky--and change them forever. Soon the fate of every bird in the world rests with a small, colorful bird called the hoopoe. The roots of the story of Solomon, Sheba,...
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King Soloman is wise, the wisest man in the world. One day, the Queen of Sheba--the wisest woman in the world--arrives at the gates of Jerusalem. She has come form a faraway land to see Solomon put this wisdom to work. "Name anything," says the king. What the queen asks of Solomon is startling. To fulfill her request, he must change the birds of the sky--and change them forever. Soon the fate of every bird in the world rests with a small, colorful bird called the hoopoe. The roots of the story of Solomon, Sheba, and the hoopoe bird are deep. Versions of the story are found in the folklore of Israel, Yemen, and East Africa. Out of this folklore, Sheldon Oberman has fashioned his own moving version of the tale, while Neil Waldman's stunning paintings reflect a blending of the tale's Jewish and African traditions. This tale, which speaks to us of respect for different people and the different creatures of the world, is ancient and powerful.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Oberman draws on biblical and traditional Jewish and African tales for this clever and affecting story. When the Queen of Sheba hears that King Solomon is the wisest of all men, she journeys with her entourage to Jerusalem to meet him. After a grand reception, she requests that he teach her what he can do with his knowledge. He promises to perform whatever task she sets, and the queen asks him to build a palace out of bird beaks. As Solomon summons all the birds to take their beaks, the hoopoe bird tempts Solomon with three riddles, "three things you do not know." The riddles lead Solomon to realize the irreparable harm he is contemplating and he tells the hoopoe, "I will not hurt you or any creature just to show my power." He then apologizes to the queen. She responds, "I wanted you to teach me something important, and you did. You taught me it is better to break a promise than do something that is wrong." Waldman (previously paired with Oberman for By the Hanukkah Light) captures the thoughtfulness of the two main characters and subtly plays up the differences between them. His Sheba is a poised, dark-skinned woman in royal African attire, replete with magnificent headdress; his Solomon, dressed simply with tallis and kippah, has a flowing red beard and long hair. The full-spread illustrations, which combine compositions in Waldman's impressionistic style with geometric patterned frames, suggest the multiple origins of the story. Ages 6-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Children's Literature - Children's Literature
What happens when the wisest man in the world fields a question from the wisest woman in the world? King Solomon learns that wisdom and the right answers aren't always enough to keep the world on its rightful path when the Queen of Sheba (Cush in the Bible, Ethiopia today) comes to meet, to test and to learn from him. How can he keep his promise to her when it means the birds of the world will have to give up their beaks? This story has echoes of the other famous Solomonic story about dividing one living infant between two mothers who both claim it as their own and teaches a gentle and very powerful lesson. The author credits Howard Schwartz and Barbara Rush's retold tale, "A Palace of Bird Beaks" and includes his own elements of tales from Africa, ancient Israel, Yemen and Europe. He does not get into whether or not the King and the Queen were more than student and teacher for each other, as legend has it. Waldman's acrylic paintings suit the book well, with one important caveat: While the Queen is gloriously African in her appearance and costuming, this reviewer did not care for Solomon's royal clothing, which looks suspiciously like a modern kippah (head covering) and tallit (prayer shawl) rather than the royal purple and royal blue robes and golden jeweled crown which are more appropriate to Solomon's era and would surely have been worn to welcome and to dazzle a visiting head of state. 2000, Caroline/Boyds Mills Press, Ages 4 to 8, $15.95. Reviewer: Judy Chernak—Children's Literature
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3-Based upon an amalgam of African and Jewish folktales, this is a charming story told in pictorial, musical language. Hearing of King Solomon's incomparable wisdom, the Queen of Sheba journeys to Jerusalem to question and learn from him. She then challenges him to use his knowledge for a special task, and he agrees without knowing what it is. He is disturbed to hear that she wants him to build a palace of bird beaks. Sadly, all the birds gather obediently to make the sacrifice. The last to arrive is the hoopoe, who poses three significant, beak-saving questions to the wise king, ending the tale with a significant truth. In a large, decorative format, with the text and acrylic illustrations handsomely framed upon pages in a variety of subtle colors, bordered by elegant abstract designs, the king and queen, the city of Jerusalem, and the many beautiful birds shine forth in full splendor.-Patricia Pearl Dole, formerly at First Presbyterian School, Martinsville, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a riddle tale based on several African and Middle Eastern antecedents, the wisest man in the world meets the wisest woman. Hearing of Solomon's wisdom, the Queen of Sheba travels from her African home to Jerusalem to see for herself. When Solomon incautiously puts himself at her disposal, she challenges his powers by asking for a palace of birds' beaks. At his command, all the birds of the earth surrender their beaks—except for little Hoopoe, who instead asks three questions that drive home the folly of keeping promises at the expense of doing wrong. Using restrained colors, Waldman (The Golden City, 1997, etc.) poses the serene king and queen, along with flocks of birds and other animals, against patterned backgrounds and within wide, also patterned borders; the effect is stately, full but not busy, formal rather than stiff. Together the nowevenwiser king and queen reward the hoopoe with a crown of golden feathers, which it bears to this day. The small bird's lesson is a salutary one for children (not to mention grownups), and so is the story's ultimate point, that "no matter who we are, we all have great things to learn. . . . " (source note) (Picture book/folk tale. 610)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781563978166
  • Publisher: Highlights Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 7 - 9 Years
  • Lexile: AD490L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 12.34 (h) x 0.36 (d)

Meet the Author

Sheldon Oberman is the author of By the Hanukkah Light, illustrated by Neil Waldman, and The Always Prayer Shawl, winner of the National Jewish Book Award, illustrated by Ted Lewin. Mr. Oberman lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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