Though the exact setting is unspecified (Turkey? the Central Asian steppes? Egypt? Greece?), this tale is nonetheless imbued with very strong atmosphere. A liberal sprinkling of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern architectural elements (minarets, onion-domes, brightly tiled roofs, window moldings right out of Aladdin ) are given a postmodern twist, enlivened by Shulevitz's stained-glass-bright watercolors and crazy-quilt graphics. Impressed with the cleverness of a simple man he meets in the desert, a king appoints him treasurer. The man quickly gains the monarch's favor--as well as the envy of the chief counselor, who plots to bring him down by accusing him of embezzlement. A search of the elderly man's home reveals a secret room, but instead of containing plunder as the wicked counselor has suggested, it's empty except for some sand and a small window--a place, the man tells the king, where he can retreat to remind himself that he's still the same simple fellow he always was. The story's message--that wealth and power don't have to corrupt, and that the measure of true wisdom is humility--carries echoes of many classic fairy tales, but the fresh delivery is Shulevitz's own. All ages. (Oct.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Gr 3 Up-A picture book of riddles, wordplay, and royal intrigue. When the king rewards a wise man's cleverness by appointing him treasurer, a villainous counselor accuses him of stealing gold and hiding it in his house. A mysterious secret room turns out to be where the treasurer goes to reflect on his good fortune and not get ``too full of'' himself. The writing is economical and concrete. Unfortunately, the gentle message about tempering gratitude with humility doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the tale and isn't one that will be comprehensible (or of interest) to youngsters. Shulevitz's artwork is superb. Bright, angular, stylized figures move in a timeless, dreamlike atmosphere and his use of light, shadow, and color to convey mood is extraordinary. Since this effort is unquestionably an artistic and literary success, many libraries will want to buy it. But is it a book children will like? Probably not.-Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL
Envy and guile are punished and wisdom and humility rewarded in this plainly told picture-book parable. On a desert pilgrimage, a king encounters an old man whose beard is black but whose hair is gray. When the king demands to know why, the old man replies, "Because my head is older than my beard." Impressed by the answer and by the old man's clever outwitting of the king's chief counselor, the king rewards the old man with a position in his court and makes him a trusted adviser. The jealous chief counselor determines to undo the old man but instead undoes himself. There's an exotic, modern, almost cubist feel to Shulevitz's art, which relies less on movement and embellishment than on angular shapes and blocks of bright, often flat color to draw the eye. The dramatic simplicity that results makes the pictures great for group sharing, while the uncomplicated narrative will be easy to read aloud.