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The Wooden Sword: A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan

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Disguised in servant’s clothes, an Afghani shah slips out of his palace to learn more about his people. When he encounters a poor Jewish shoemaker full of faith that everything will turn out just as it should, the shah grows curious. Vowing that no harm will befall the poor man, he decides to test that faith, only to find that the shoemaker’s cheerful optimism cannot be sh Disguised in servant’s clothes, an Afghani shah slips out of his palace to learn more about his people. When he encounters a poor Jewish shoemaker full of faith that everything will turn out just as it should, the shah grows curious. Vowing that no harm will befall the poor man, he decides to test that faith, only to find that the shoemaker’s cheerful optimism cannot be shaken. But the biggest challenge of the poor man’s life is yet to come! Ann Stampler’s retelling of this classic Afghani Jewish folktale is enriched by Carol Liddiment’s charming and vivid paintings.


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Disguised in servant’s clothes, an Afghani shah slips out of his palace to learn more about his people. When he encounters a poor Jewish shoemaker full of faith that everything will turn out just as it should, the shah grows curious. Vowing that no harm will befall the poor man, he decides to test that faith, only to find that the shoemaker’s cheerful optimism cannot be sh Disguised in servant’s clothes, an Afghani shah slips out of his palace to learn more about his people. When he encounters a poor Jewish shoemaker full of faith that everything will turn out just as it should, the shah grows curious. Vowing that no harm will befall the poor man, he decides to test that faith, only to find that the shoemaker’s cheerful optimism cannot be shaken. But the biggest challenge of the poor man’s life is yet to come! Ann Stampler’s retelling of this classic Afghani Jewish folktale is enriched by Carol Liddiment’s charming and vivid paintings.

30 review for The Wooden Sword: A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan

  1. 4 out of 5

    Miri

    I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, the illustrations are nice, and this is a good example of that tradition Kurt Vonnegut talks about (which Americans don't have) of honoring the poor wise man. On the other hand, I couldn't help being irritated by the glorification of poverty and the poor man's Candide-esque assertions that it didn't matter whether he had enough money to buy food, because his faith would get him through. (And of course, when his wife is concerned about how they w I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, the illustrations are nice, and this is a good example of that tradition Kurt Vonnegut talks about (which Americans don't have) of honoring the poor wise man. On the other hand, I couldn't help being irritated by the glorification of poverty and the poor man's Candide-esque assertions that it didn't matter whether he had enough money to buy food, because his faith would get him through. (And of course, when his wife is concerned about how they will keep from starving, the implication is that she is not as faithful as he is.) "Can a man earn his keep carrying water to sell?" the man asks when his livelihood is taken away from him. "If he has strong hands, he can," is the answer. All right—what about someone who doesn't have strong hands? "Can someone earn his keep gathering wood?" he asks when the water-carrying is taken away from him. "If he has busy hands and a strong back, he can," is the answer. So what about someone who doesn't have a strong back? These scenes are meant to show that the man has a good work ethic, but the fact that he is privileged enough to be physically capable of such hard work—or, frankly, the fact that he's a man, since I'm sure his wife wouldn't be able to go out and provide for herself that way—is not being acknowledged. I had the same problem with The Merchant and the Thief . I get that these stories are supposed to have positive messages about faith and resourcefulness, but there are underlying messages here that make light of real, life-threatening world problems, and that bothers me.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lynda Shoup

    This folktale from Afghanistan is a welcome addition to the folktale section. Of special remark is the last page in which the author documents her sources and the way in which this version was vetted for authenticity. This page could be very useful as an example about how it should be done. This is one I'll add to my purchase list. This folktale from Afghanistan is a welcome addition to the folktale section. Of special remark is the last page in which the author documents her sources and the way in which this version was vetted for authenticity. This page could be very useful as an example about how it should be done. This is one I'll add to my purchase list.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Krista the Krazy Kataloguer

    The moral of this Jewish folktale is to make the best of whatever situation you're in, and have faith that all will turn out well, "as it should". What an entertaining reminder to think positive! I liked the poor man's creativity, quick thinking, and willingness to try new things. Highly recommended! The moral of this Jewish folktale is to make the best of whatever situation you're in, and have faith that all will turn out well, "as it should". What an entertaining reminder to think positive! I liked the poor man's creativity, quick thinking, and willingness to try new things. Highly recommended!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    The illustrations are rich with detail and the story flows nicely; between the shah's actions and the shoemaker's attitude there is lots to talk about here. PLUS it's well-researched, and sourced & cited thoroughly. The illustrations are rich with detail and the story flows nicely; between the shah's actions and the shoemaker's attitude there is lots to talk about here. PLUS it's well-researched, and sourced & cited thoroughly.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alyson (Kid Lit Frenzy)

    Beautifully retold by Stampler and beautifully illustrated. Definitely one book to add to a collection of folk tales.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Libby

    Delightful folktale about wisdom and contentment.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alethea A

    Of all her books, this is definitely my favorite.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    This was a very nice folktale from Afghanistan about faith, humility, and kindness. I'm not big into folktales, but I did enjoy this one. This was a very nice folktale from Afghanistan about faith, humility, and kindness. I'm not big into folktales, but I did enjoy this one.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    The Wooden Sword Written By: Ann Redisch Stampler Illustrated By: Carol Liddiment Fountas & Pinnell: L Book Level: 2nd Grade Book Summary: This is a traditional Jewish folktale in Afghanistan. The shah gets restless and puts on servants cloths to go out for a walk. During his walk he encounters a poor Jewish shoemaker that’s jolly. The shah is confused as to how someone so poor could be so happy. Upon finding out the shoemaker’s happiness comes from faith knowing God will take care of him and his wif The Wooden Sword Written By: Ann Redisch Stampler Illustrated By: Carol Liddiment Fountas & Pinnell: L Book Level: 2nd Grade Book Summary: This is a traditional Jewish folktale in Afghanistan. The shah gets restless and puts on servants cloths to go out for a walk. During his walk he encounters a poor Jewish shoemaker that’s jolly. The shah is confused as to how someone so poor could be so happy. Upon finding out the shoemaker’s happiness comes from faith knowing God will take care of him and his wife, he decides to test the man’s faith. Genre: Multicultural Literature, Picture Book, and Traditional Literature This is a multicultural book because its setting is Afghanistan and the two main characters are a Jewish shoemaker and an Afghani shah. This is a picture book because every page has a painted image with most of the pages being a full pictures. This is a traditional literature piece due to it being a Jewish folktale with multiple version. The characters are slightly different throughout the versions though. Bookshelf Mentor Writing Traits: Sentence Fluency: The story has a nice pace as its read. There are varying lengths and transitions in the sentences. This could be used for a literature class on folktales or a social study class on Afghanistan.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Jones

    The shah was unable to sleep. He was curious about his people. So, he decided to put on servant’s clothes and left the palace. He went to the poorest section of Kabul where he found a shoemaker. He couldn’t understand why a poor shoemaker could be so happy. While the shah was with the shoemaker, the shoemaker had to face a hardship—he was no longer able to make shoes. The shah still couldn’t understand why the poor man’s faith was not shaken, so he tried to test the man’s faith. Each time, the The shah was unable to sleep. He was curious about his people. So, he decided to put on servant’s clothes and left the palace. He went to the poorest section of Kabul where he found a shoemaker. He couldn’t understand why a poor shoemaker could be so happy. While the shah was with the shoemaker, the shoemaker had to face a hardship—he was no longer able to make shoes. The shah still couldn’t understand why the poor man’s faith was not shaken, so he tried to test the man’s faith. Each time, the shoemaker showed that he will not waver from his faith. When he became a palace guard and couldn’t pay for food, he sold his silver sword and replaced it with a wooden sword. The shah’s final test was for the poor man to execute someone with his sword. The poor man said he could do no such thing and said a prayer. With that, the shah knew his faith was strong and brought the man to his palace where he was now the royal advisor.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    One night, the Shah decides to go out disguised as a servant to check on the state of his subjects. Wandering around Kabul he come upon the household of a poor cobbler and his wife celebrating Shabbat with a modest meal. When the Shah asks the poor tradesman why he and his wife are so content, the response he discovers is that it’s the man’s faith that God will always provide. “If one path is blocked, God leads me to another, and everything turns out just as it should,” replies the Jew. Impresse One night, the Shah decides to go out disguised as a servant to check on the state of his subjects. Wandering around Kabul he come upon the household of a poor cobbler and his wife celebrating Shabbat with a modest meal. When the Shah asks the poor tradesman why he and his wife are so content, the response he discovers is that it’s the man’s faith that God will always provide. “If one path is blocked, God leads me to another, and everything turns out just as it should,” replies the Jew. Impressed by his faith, but curious about its strength, the Shah decides to test the shoemaker. In the author’s note Stampler says that she chose this Jewish Afghani version of the folktale to adapt because of the respect that the two central character have for each other despite their different religions and stations in life. The benevolent smiles that Liddiment expresses in her cheerful illustrations harmonize beautifully with the author’s sentiment.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mackenzie Frederick

    Genre: Traditional Literature One Unique Feature: This book is a great way to show students the differences in traditional literature between different cultures while also highlighting the similiarities to draw comparisons and create a sense of common ground with a group of peoples they may have never met. It's also a great way to diversify your classroom library and represent more people. Grade Level: I would read this book with 3rd to 6th graders and I would probably put it in my classroom libra Genre: Traditional Literature One Unique Feature: This book is a great way to show students the differences in traditional literature between different cultures while also highlighting the similiarities to draw comparisons and create a sense of common ground with a group of peoples they may have never met. It's also a great way to diversify your classroom library and represent more people. Grade Level: I would read this book with 3rd to 6th graders and I would probably put it in my classroom library for more advanced 2nd graders.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sparrows at Home

    We read this book as part of our study of Afghanistan. It tells the story of a Jewish man with so much faith and resourcefulness, that whatever the shah (who was posing as a poor traveler) did to test the man's faith, he would always overcome his trial. The shah recognized this and rewarded the man. We read this book as part of our study of Afghanistan. It tells the story of a Jewish man with so much faith and resourcefulness, that whatever the shah (who was posing as a poor traveler) did to test the man's faith, he would always overcome his trial. The shah recognized this and rewarded the man.

  14. 4 out of 5

    April

    I found this at the library and hadn't heard of it before so I decided to bring it home. I'm so glad I did. It teaches about faith and trusting in Heavenly Father's plan. Loved it I found this at the library and hadn't heard of it before so I decided to bring it home. I'm so glad I did. It teaches about faith and trusting in Heavenly Father's plan. Loved it

  15. 4 out of 5

    Masooma

    I think its a good website for reading favorite books

  16. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Stopper

    Title: The Wooden Sword: A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan Author: Ann Redisch Stampler Illustrator: Carol Liddiment Genre: Non-European Folktale Theme(s): Jewish, Folklore, Kings and Queens, Rulers Opening line/sentence: “One starry night in old Kabul, the good shah couldn’t fall asleep. He stretched and he yawned and he rolled out of bed.” Brief Book Summary: This book follows the shah as he is walking around when he comes upone a house in the poorest section of the poorest street where he hears la Title: The Wooden Sword: A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan Author: Ann Redisch Stampler Illustrator: Carol Liddiment Genre: Non-European Folktale Theme(s): Jewish, Folklore, Kings and Queens, Rulers Opening line/sentence: “One starry night in old Kabul, the good shah couldn’t fall asleep. He stretched and he yawned and he rolled out of bed.” Brief Book Summary: This book follows the shah as he is walking around when he comes upone a house in the poorest section of the poorest street where he hears laughter and love coming from the home. It is the home of a shoemaker who says that he does not care about money, instead only helping others no matter what and putting his trust in God. The shah puts the poor shoemaker to the test by giving a number of decrees each day that stop the man from working. However, each day the poor man sets out to find a new job and succeeds. Each night the shah visits the poor man and each time he has food that he shares with him and kindness in his heart. After all of these decrees and job changes the shah reveals himself to the poor man and makes him his royal advisor because he learned from this poor man that you should never lose your faith and never give up, so he knew he needed somebody like him by his side. Professional Recommendation/Review: Book Horn Guide (2) K-3 Illustrated by Carol Liddiment. The shah decides to test a poor Jewish shoemaker who is rich in faith. First he outlaws shoe repair, then prohibits water peddling (the resourceful man's second employ), and finally forces him to act as palace executioner. The shah gains wise council from the man, whose faith and ingenuity remain steadfast. Rich-hued paintings highlight the characters' goodheartedness while incorporating culture-specific details. Source note appended. Professional Recommendation/Review #2: Christine Gingrich (Kutztown University Book Review) “Once, the shah in Kabul was curious about the poor people under his rule, so he disguised himself in order to visit their homes. He comes across a very poor shoemaker and his wife, who have almost nothing, but are rich with happiness and love and the faith that everything will turn out as it should. The shah decides to test their faith by proclaiming new ridiculous laws daily, which force the poor couple through more trouble and hardship. Each night, the shah returns to the couple’s home to see if they’re holding up, and though the wife sometimes struggles, the shoemaker never falters, teaching a powerful lesson. The simple, touching words, paired with stylized illustrations depicting traditional clothing and Afghan homes, makes this the perfect book for a folktale unit, learning about other cultures, and giving hope in hard times.” Response to Two Professional Reviews: I tend to agree with both reviews. The words in this book are touching and the illustrations give the reader great visuals as they read the story. I think the overall message in this story is one that all young children should learn, never give up and always be kindhearted because you never know who is watching. Evaluation of Literary Elements: Stampler uses great strategy in executing this book from beginning to end. He makes sure to put the writing in small sections of the book so that it looks like there is not very much text, when in fact there is a pretty good amount. The book comes across as if it is mostly illustrations, when in fact there is a good amount of text. I think that this would catch the attention of a young reader and really make them want to read this book, because it is not intimidating. Also, the illustrator Liddiment uses very vivid, colorful illustrations that give the reader great visuals while flipping through this book. While the text definitely moves the story along, I think the illustrations are so great that the reader would understand what is going on without even reading the words. I think this is important because young children who do not yet know how to read would be able to flip through this book and get a great sense of what is going on, while also working on their directionality. Consideration of Instructional Application: I think that this is a great book to read aloud for any elementary aged classroom. The story is not long, and it has great text, visuals, and an excellent message. I think I would use this in very early grades as a moral story, because it will teach the children that they should never give up no matter what, that they should always be kindhearted, and that being rich is not what is important. I think it is important for all of the students to understand that being rich or poor is not what makes you a great person or capable of living a great life, instead it is what type of person you are. Also, I would use this story for older grades when teaching many different cultures. I think that this story is great in that it gives the reader a great idea of the Jewish culture. It also helps to stress the point that regardless of what culture you are part of, everybody needs to be kind to one another.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Merfford

    This folktale is based on a traditional idea that a poor man is thankful for what he has and does not yearn for more. A "good shah" takes to the streets of the common people and passes by the house of a poor man and his wife. He is amazed to see them laughing and smiling and stops in to ask them what they have to be happy for. Not believing that the man can be happy despite his lack of possessions, he returns to the castle and creates various laws that limit the man's job choices, to test the ma This folktale is based on a traditional idea that a poor man is thankful for what he has and does not yearn for more. A "good shah" takes to the streets of the common people and passes by the house of a poor man and his wife. He is amazed to see them laughing and smiling and stops in to ask them what they have to be happy for. Not believing that the man can be happy despite his lack of possessions, he returns to the castle and creates various laws that limit the man's job choices, to test the man's faith and limit his earning powers. Through various tasks, the man still finds a way to provide for his family without complaining about his situation. The tale ends where the man is tasked to perform an act of murder. After he prays he finds a way to outsmart the guard and not kill the man. Possible classroom connections: Students could find alternative versions of this tale and compare it to this version. Students can focus on theme and messages. Students can also compare and contrast the characters. Students could write from the perspective of one of the other characters in the story.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey

    The shah discovers a very happy couple living in the poorest house in Kabul. He decides to test the poor man's faith in God by preventing him from earning a living. Each time, the poor man finds a way to buy dinner. Finally, his prayer to his God at a critical moment convinces the shah that he is genuinely faithful. He makes the poor man a royal adviser because of his wisdom. This book would be appropriate to share as a read aloud with children between four and six years old. Children that enjoy The shah discovers a very happy couple living in the poorest house in Kabul. He decides to test the poor man's faith in God by preventing him from earning a living. Each time, the poor man finds a way to buy dinner. Finally, his prayer to his God at a critical moment convinces the shah that he is genuinely faithful. He makes the poor man a royal adviser because of his wisdom. This book would be appropriate to share as a read aloud with children between four and six years old. Children that enjoy folktales, stories with a strong theme and stories about different countries and cultures may enjoy this book. It would be appropriate to help children discuss theme and develop narrative retelling skills.

  19. 4 out of 5

    JillJYA

    Each of the aspects of this picturebook that stood out for me were also ones that Stampler mentions in her author's note! First, both negative characters (the bullying shah and the whining peasant) from some versions of this folktale have become positive ones (a change that's best, if paradoxically, appreciated by readers who know these versions). Second, although the peasant attributes his successes to a deity, his real rescuer is a combination of his own thoughts and actions and the circumstan Each of the aspects of this picturebook that stood out for me were also ones that Stampler mentions in her author's note! First, both negative characters (the bullying shah and the whining peasant) from some versions of this folktale have become positive ones (a change that's best, if paradoxically, appreciated by readers who know these versions). Second, although the peasant attributes his successes to a deity, his real rescuer is a combination of his own thoughts and actions and the circumstances he finds himself in . . . no deity required. Third, the peasant's religion (and, as I think back on it, the shah's too) are only hinted at - both in the words and the pictures - never explicitly stated. Nice to see a positive portrayal of Afghanistan in children's lit, too.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jeannie

    I thought this would be a great book to read to my 5 year old....but much to my surprise it was my 3 year old whom I would find sitting and paging through while I was cleaning or getting dinner ready. I loved the illustrations and the overall story...I do enjoy a happy ending and apparently so do the author - she mentioned in an "author's note" at the end that the European version of this story the rich man was a bully an the poor man was sour. I agree, the changes she made were delightful. My s I thought this would be a great book to read to my 5 year old....but much to my surprise it was my 3 year old whom I would find sitting and paging through while I was cleaning or getting dinner ready. I loved the illustrations and the overall story...I do enjoy a happy ending and apparently so do the author - she mentioned in an "author's note" at the end that the European version of this story the rich man was a bully an the poor man was sour. I agree, the changes she made were delightful. My sons agree!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sean Dugan-Strout

    This Jewish folktale is a wonderful retelling by Ann Redisch Stampler, that presents issues of faith and bullying in a bright and colorful way. I especially liked the artwork; the acrylics on the pages make the story pop out. She uses beautiful and vibrant colors. It's nice to see Afghan tradition in children's literature. This Jewish folktale is a wonderful retelling by Ann Redisch Stampler, that presents issues of faith and bullying in a bright and colorful way. I especially liked the artwork; the acrylics on the pages make the story pop out. She uses beautiful and vibrant colors. It's nice to see Afghan tradition in children's literature.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tara

    This is a Jewish folktale from Afghanistan. With fun, brightly colored illustrations, it tells the story of a poor Jewish shoemaker. An Afghani shah tries to test the poor man's faith, but every time things turn out as they should. Back matter includes a lengthy author's note. This is a Jewish folktale from Afghanistan. With fun, brightly colored illustrations, it tells the story of a poor Jewish shoemaker. An Afghani shah tries to test the poor man's faith, but every time things turn out as they should. Back matter includes a lengthy author's note.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Taylor Troncin

    This book was read for Wesley’s summer reading club. Wesley is my (soon to be five year old) son. This review is what we used for his reading club. *** This was an interesting story. It was a bit long for Wesley's attention span (he wanted to go play on the computer). This book was read for Wesley’s summer reading club. Wesley is my (soon to be five year old) son. This review is what we used for his reading club. *** This was an interesting story. It was a bit long for Wesley's attention span (he wanted to go play on the computer).

  24. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Taylor

    This was a cute book and most children would love it. It referenced God, belief, and faith so it probably shouldn't be a book in a public classroom. This was a cute book and most children would love it. It referenced God, belief, and faith so it probably shouldn't be a book in a public classroom.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Such an intriguing Jewish story from Afghanistan. I also appreciated Stampler's author note, telling how she got interested and researched the background for writing this story. Such an intriguing Jewish story from Afghanistan. I also appreciated Stampler's author note, telling how she got interested and researched the background for writing this story.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

  27. 5 out of 5

    Misty Wade

  28. 4 out of 5

    Megs

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lucy

  30. 4 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

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