Sarah's Reviews > Joha Makes a Wish: A Middle Eastern Tale

Joha Makes a Wish by Eric A. Kimmel
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's review
Feb 21, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: middle-eastern-rll-528, picture-books, traditional-literature

This is a wonderful, humorous tale adapted by renowned storyteller Eric A. Kimmel from a Yemenite story called, “The Answered Prayer.” As the author states in his author’s note, although it was “not specifically a Joha story, it lent itself to Joha’s unique blend of wisdom and foolishness.” Joha is a well-known “wise-fool” character found in stories throughout the Middle East.

In this story, Joha finds a magical wishing stick on his journey to Baghdad. Excitedly, he wishes for a new pair of slippers to replace his tattered sandals. (A very practical wish, as his are so worn.) However, not only does he not get the new slippers, his own shoes are no longer on his feet! Angry that he now has to make his journey barefoot, he wishes that the stick would just disappear. The stick not only does not disappear, but it remains stuck to his hand. Of course, as such stories go, things only get worse—including an unfortunate run-in with the sultan. As he runs from the sultan’s men, he finds a wise ,old shopkeeper who, after allowing him to hide, asks him what is wrong. As Joha explains the day’s events, he bemoans the unluckiness of this wishing stick. Upon eying the stick, the wise shopkeeper points out the reason for poor Joha’s bad luck: the stick has been held upside-down the whole time, thus reversing all of the wishes that he has made. So, with the suggestion of the old man, he goes back to fix things with the sultan. What happens next, you will have to read for yourself. The ending is amusing and unexpected.

This story would be a great inclusion to a study of folktales! It could be used with a variety of ages of students from Kindergarten on up. It would be particularly great as part of a look at other multicultural stories containing wise-fool characters, such as the Juan Bobo tales from Spanish-speaking countries, and the people from Chelm found in Eastern-European Jewish stories. One of the things I really like about the book is that the author and illustrator depict the character in a respectful way, making Joha humorous without making him a stereotype, idiot sort of character.

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