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The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela: Through Three Continents in the Twelfth Century

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Through Three Continents in the Twelfth Century

Imagine a time when streets were narrow and dirty, towns were surrounded by walls, brigands lurked alongside roads that were treacherous and few, bridges over rivers were rare, and a man setting out on a journey never knew if he would return alive. It was the year 1159 when the medieval Jewish traveler Benjamin left his native town of Tudela in northern Spain on an adventure to see the places he had read about in the Bible. He ...

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Overview

Through Three Continents in the Twelfth Century

Imagine a time when streets were narrow and dirty, towns were surrounded by walls, brigands lurked alongside roads that were treacherous and few, bridges over rivers were rare, and a man setting out on a journey never knew if he would return alive. It was the year 1159 when the medieval Jewish traveler Benjamin left his native town of Tudela in northern Spain on an adventure to see the places he had read about in the Bible. He traveled for fourteen years - from Rome to Constantinople to Jerusalem to Baghdad, among others - by ship, by cart, and on foot, enduring great hardships in his quest for knowledge of other places and people.

Working from Benjamin's original chronicle, written in Hebrew, as well as other sources on the period, Uri Shulevitz captures the true spirit of this amazing adventurer, using a text written in the first person and superlative illustrations.

 

The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela is a 2006 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

A fictionalized account of the travels of Benjamin, a Jewish man from Tudela, Spain, who, in 1159, set out on a fourteen-year-long journey that took him to Italy, Greece, Palestine, Persia, China, Egypt, and Sicily.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An eye-filling tour of the medieval Mediterranean." — The Horn Book

"A first-person narrative threaded with vivid comments about smells, hazards, misfortunes, spectacles, and local legends encountered along the way. Affords glimpses of distant, exotic places, but also captures the wonder and the terror of travel at a time when living through even a short trip was considered a miracle."

— Starred, Kirkus Reviews

"Outstanding execution. The book is filled with a bazaar's worth of detail. It's no surprise that Shulevitz, a Caldecott winner, provides outstanding illustrations, but he outdoes himself here. Together with the evocative text, they capture the sweep of this mysterious and far away world." — Starred, Booklist "Shulevitz re-creates this epic journey in a picture book of epic proportions. Meticulously researched...Shulevitz's retelling stands as a testimony to the history, wisdom, and fortitude of those medieval Jews living precariously under Christian or Muslim rule." — Starred, School Library Journal

"Extraordinary." — Publishers Weekly

"City-, sea-, and desertscapes in luminous emerald, sapphire, and topaz hues are richly textured in intricate layers of color, grainy black outlining, and dashing brush marks." — The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Publishers Weekly
Shulevitz (Snow) accomplishes the daunting task of condensing the real-life epic journey of a medieval Jewish traveler who set out from his hometown of Tudela, Spain, in 1159 to see "as many places mentioned in the Bible as possible." Through a first-person narrative addressed to his friends and family upon his return, Benjamin vividly recounts "only... the most amazing places I saw and the most fascinating stories I heard" during his treacherous roughly 14-year trip. The highlights mirror the vast nature of the journey, through parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. Chapter-like segments include brief factual asides about the destinations as well as Jewish history-both ancient (e.g., the discovery of the secret tombs of the Ancient Hebrew Kings in Jerusalem and Babylon's Tower of Babel) and during Benjamin's time (e.g., the treatment of Jews in those countries). Despite its breadth, Shulevitz keeps this lengthy tale's pace brisk, honing in on details sure to capture readers' imaginations, from a description of the smell of sailing ships ("Rat urine had soaked into the boat's wooden boards") to the sounds of medieval Rome to the colorful sight of a procession in Baghdad, led by the Caliph ("the `substitute,' of the prophet Muhammad"). Mixed-media illustrations incorporate various artistic styles and jeweled hues that punctuate expansive ocean and desert panoramas. Shulevitz bases this extraordinary work on Benjamin's own Book of Travels (and many other sources listed in an extensive bibliography). The history is especially fascinating given the current focus on the Middle East. Ages 8-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
At daybreak the weary traveler enters the gates of Tudela. After a journey of 14 years, he is home. Using the original Hebrew record and other period sources, Shulevitz has meticulously researched the remarkable odyssey that Benjamin of Tudela began in 1159 and infuses his matter-of-fact style with the excitement of a first-person narrative. In a time when travel was fraught with danger, Benjamin made his way by land and sea relying on his cunning and bravery for safe passage. To his friends in Tudela, Benjamin relates the sight, sounds, and smells of the exotic ports of call that include Rome, Syria, Baghdad, Babylon, and China. He weaves comments about cultural and political differences he observed, relates stories he has heard, and brings to his listeners tales of lands and people they can only imagine. Whether he is telling of skillfully out-navigating ruthless pirates or describing the pageantry of the Christmas extravaganza in the Hippodrome or viewing the remains of the ancient Tower of Babel, Benjamin has the undivided attention of his listeners. The epic journey requires illustrations of epic proportions and Shulevitz rises to the occasion. His artwork is rich in jewel-like colors and each illustration is painstaking rendered to convey medieval life. Surely this will be considered for the Caldecott Medal. 2005, Farrar Straus Giroux, Ages 9 to 14.
—Beverley Fahey
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-Benjamin, a Spanish Jew, left his native town of Tudela in 1159 to embark on a 14-year journey across the Middle East. His Book of Travels, written in Hebrew, recounts his grueling, often-dangerous journey through what is modern-day France, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Egypt. Encounters with warring Crusaders and Muslims, rapacious pirates, and bandits added to his hardships. Shulevitz re-creates this epic journey in a picture book of epic proportions, adapting Benjamin's account into a detailed, first-person narrative, accompanied by large, ambitious illustrations that evoke the landscapes, people, architecture, and history of the places that Benjamin saw. Darker, freer, and more impressionistic than Shulevitz's familiar work, the art is often indebted to medieval manuscript painting and Persian miniatures. Meticulously researched, with a long bibliography, lengthy author's note, and brief insets containing information that complements Benjamin's descriptions, this oversize picture book is obviously a labor of love. Wherever he went, Benjamin visited Jewish communities. Shulevitz's retelling stands as a testimony to the history, wisdom, and fortitude of those medieval Jews living precariously under Christian or Muslim rule. Both art and text will help readers imagine life during that time and, perhaps, provide a context for the contemporary turmoil in the lands Benjamin visited so long ago.-Margaret A. Chang, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Shulevitz recasts the impersonal account of a great medieval Jewish traveler, who set out to see as many of the places mentioned in the Bible as possible, as a first-person narrative threaded with vivid comments about smells, hazards, misfortunes, spectacles and local legends encountered along the way. The travelogue takes readers over land and water from Tudela in northern Spain to Rome's Arch of Titus and on to Constantinople's Christmas spectacle, through Syria to Crusader-held Jerusalem, then to Persia, and finally Egypt and Mount Sinai. To the text, Shulevitz adds grainy illustrations, done in muted colors and echoing the European pictorial style of the times, with crowd scenes and cityscapes shown in flattened perspective and small, clumsy-looking ships tossed upon wide seas. Capped by a long note and a meaty booklist, this, like James Rumford's much briefer Traveling Man: The Journey of Ibn Battuta, 1325-1354 (2001), not only affords glimpses of distant, exotic places, but also captures the wonder and the terror of travel at a time when living through even a short trip was considered a miracle. (Picture book. 8-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374377540
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/6/2005
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 48
  • Age range: 9 - 13 Years
  • Lexile: 920L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 10.84 (w) x 11.28 (h) x 0.49 (d)

Meet the Author

Uri Shulevitz is a Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator and author. He was born in Warsaw, Poland, on February 27, 1935. He began drawing at the age of three and, unlike many children, never stopped. The Warsaw blitz occurred when he was four years old, and the Shulevitz family fled. For eight years they were wanderers, arriving, eventually, in Paris in 1947. There Shulevitz developed an enthusiasm for French comic books, and soon he and a friend started making their own. At thirteen, Shulevitz won first prize in an all-elementary-school drawing competition in Paris's 20th district.

 

In 1949, the family moved to Israel, where Shulevitz worked a variety of jobs: an apprentice at a rubber-stamp shop, a carpenter, and a dog-license clerk at Tel Aviv City Hall. He studied at the Teachers' Institute in Tel Aviv, where he took courses in literature, anatomy, and biology, and also studied at the Art Institute of Tel Aviv. At fifteen, he was the youngest to exhibit in a group drawing show at the Tel Aviv Museum.

 

At 24 he moved to New York City, where he studied painting at Brooklyn Museum Art School and drew illustrations for a publisher of Hebrew books. One day while talking on the telephone, he noticed that his doodles had a fresh and spontaneous look—different from his previous illustrations. This discovery was the beginning of Uri's new approach to his illustrations for The Moon in My Room, his first book, published in 1963. Since then he was written and illustrated many celebrated children’s books. He won the Caldecott Medal for The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, written by Arthur Ransome. He has also earned three Caldecott Honors, for The Treasure, Snow and How I Learned Geography. His other books include One Monday Morning, Dawn, So Sleepy Story,and many others. He also wrote the instructional guide Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books. He lives in New York City.

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