Friday, March 22, 2013

The Wooden Sword + The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street and Book Giveaway!

I was recently introduced to a new author. She isn’t new at writing, just new to me. 
She has generously set up a rafflecopter giveaway so you might win a signed copy of the two books I'm reviewing today. Read on to find out how to enter!

Ann Redisch Stampler is one of the genre-busting authors who writes and has had published both picture books and young adult fiction. Her 2010 picture book, The Rooster Prince of Breslov, was a Sydney Taylor Notable Book. I recently read two of Ms. Stampler's books, and although this is the older of the two, I had to write about it. I was unfamiliar with the historical interactions between Afghani Muslims and Jews and was captivated by this 2013 Sydney Taylor Honor story and illustrations. This story was a welcome respite from the somber images I usually associate with the country of Afghanistan.

Illustrator: Carol Liddiment
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Audience: ages 5-8
Themes: Folktales, Multi-cultural, Faith, Afghanistan, Jewish
Opening: “One starry night in old Kabul, the good shah couldn’t fall asleep.”

Synopsis: An Afghani shah disguises himself in his servant's clothes and goes out to find out if the people of the town are "sad or happy, rich or poor, foolish or wise." He meets a poor Jewish shoemaker who is willing to share what little he has and full of faith that everything will turn out as it should. To test the poor man's faith, the shah decrees that there will be no more shoe-mending on the streets of old Kabul. The shah tests him again and again until.....(the shoemaker's clever thinking at the climax brought a smile to my face, I won't give it away!).

Resources: When you search for "the wooden sword" online, you're likely to come up with a lot of links to The Sword of Zelda video game. These links are not relevant (unless you're also a gamer). Similar versions of the tale of The Wooden Sword are on the Unitarian Universalist website here. And the Hasidic stories website here. I enjoyed the final page of the book where the author talks about the history of the folktale. This is a good opportunity to talk about the nature of folktales and how stories change in re-tellings. The book is also a good springboard to talk about poverty in the world. Children can make a list of what they think people need in order to be happy. What do they need? What could they do without? Wikihow has directions for making a wooden sword (they say it looks cool but isn't too dangerous, but I say beware of anything long and sturdy kids can wave around!)

Now here's the BONUS! 
Since we didn't have Perfect Picture Book Friday last week, today is a two-fer by the same author. Ann has a new book, just released this week from Kar-Ben publishing.  The Facebook book link about her launch party in Los Angeles on March 23 is here. If you're in the area, please go and say "hi" to Ann! 
And--here's a review of: The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street.

Illustrator: Francesca Carabelli
Audience: 3-8
Themes: Cats, Companionship, Neighbors, Tolerance, Contemporary Israel
Opening: "Up and Down Ben Yehuda Street:  cats, cats, cats,"
I have seen the swarms of feral cats at the Coliseum in Rome. Apparently, Tel Aviv has a similar situation. The setting of the story is contemporary Tel Aviv and there are lots of cats on Ben Yehuda Street. In this story the friendship between a little grey cat and a fluffy white homeless stray brings two lonely adult neighbors together. Interestingly, like in The Wooden Sword, The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street has no young children as characters in the story yet I think it works well for a young audience. The pacing feels off to me in one or two places where the pages are especially text dense, but overall it's  wonderful story that showcases the power of opening ourselves up to other people (and animals!) around us. Mr. Modiano's transformation made even a devoted dog person like me smile.

Resources: As part of the book launch blog tour, there is a great interview with the author Ann Stampler here.    

These reviews are part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books.

Other bloggers will be reviewing Ann's books this week and next--including a few 12x names you may recognize! Find the whole tour schedule at

Finally, here's how to enter the giveaway!

A rafflecopter giveaway for The Wooden Sword AND The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street.

Good luck everyone! I'm off to a conference today but I'll enjoy reading everyone's comments when I get back.


  1. Wendy, these sound like a wonderfully different style of PBs. Thank you for sharing them.

  2. I've been reading so many wonderful things about these books. They look fabulous. Thanks for highlighting them Wendy.

  3. The author is new to me, too. Both books sound like good reads.
    Thank you!

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  4. I love the folklore and think there is a place for it that is relevant for kids today. I like that both books are multicultural and find them very special. Will have to watch this author. Nice reviews!

  5. Who can resist a cat book? And one where the cats bring friends together, is even better!

  6. Great reviews, Wendy...I especially love the look of the first and will try to get these at the library.:)You are right...these are topics not usually addressed in picture books...thanks for adding them to the PPBF list!

  7. Oh, I see the rafflecopter has an additional favorite folktale of all time: 'Baba Yaga'...I wish I could find the copy I read and reread a million times as a child...but it disappeared long ago. Next in line would be 'Stone Soup'.:)

  8. Love multicultural themed books and these are wonderful. Thanks for sharing them with us, Wendy.