Review of Riding a Donkey Backwards: Wise and Foolish Tales of Mulla Nasruddin

Riding a Donkey Backwards: Wise and Foolish Tales of Mulla Nasruddin
retold by Sean Taylor and the Khayaal Theatre; illus. by Shirin Adl
Primary    Candlewick    48 pp.
8/19    978-1-5362-0507-7    $18.99

Mulla Nasruddin, as the preface explains, is a pan-Muslim trickster figure who has captivated storytellers for generations and whose actions constantly challenge perceptions, asking readers and listeners to see things in a different light. For example, you may think that Nasruddin is riding his donkey backwards, but in his view, “I’m facing forward. It’s the donkey who’s facing backwards!” Each of the twenty-one pithy vignettes in this collection imparts a philosophical, ethical, or intellectual conundrum. In “The Other Side,” a man asks Nasruddin, standing on the opposite bank of a river, how he can cross to the other side. Nasruddin, with his usual irascible tone, replies, “What a birdbrain…You are on the other side!” The story “When You Are Dead” asks what one would like said about them at their funeral. Nasruddin’s answer: “Look! He’s moving!” Mixed-media illustrations incorporate texture that makes each vignette an engrossing visual experience. Paper, tissue, felt, yarn, sticks, miniature woven carpets, and beads are combined with other textures that beg to be touched. With his bulbous nose, towering turban, expressive face, four teeth, and fluffy cotton beard that defies gravity, Nasruddin will be sure to elicit giggles from young readers even as they contemplate the logical puzzles he poses. A glossary is appended, but no source notes are provided.

From the November/December 2019 Horn Book Magazine.

Julie Hakim Azzam
Julie Hakim Azzam

Julie Hakim Azzam is the assistant director of the MFA program in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University and has a PhD in literary and cultural studies, with a specialization in contemporary postcolonial literature from Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.

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