cover image Goha the Wise Fool

Goha the Wise Fool

, , illus. by Hany El Saed Ahmed and Hag Hamdy Mohamed Fattouh. . Philomel, $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-399-24222-9

The 15 tales in this collection belong to a Middle Eastern oral tradition about a wise fool who sometimes bears the brunt of his neighbors and sometimes outwits them. Each story contains a full-page illustration crafted by an uncle-nephew team of Cairo tentmakers; the collaborators create a khimeya , a hand-sewn quilted scene featuring Goha, dressed in dark pants, gold-tinted shoes and shirt, and green belt and turban. They fashion buildings, furniture, mats and animals from artfully cut, colorful fabrics, which contrast brightly with the straw-colored background; strategically placed black-threaded lines add a three-dimensional quality. In "Goha and the Shoes," readers laugh with Goha. He subverts his uninvited guests' plan to trick him into providing lunch by selling their shoes (left outside his door) to pay for the meal ("Your shoes... are now in your stomachs!" says he). Other stories will prompt laughter at the unlikely hero, as with "Goha Counts His Donkeys": the fellow counts 12 animals when he stands, but only 11 when he mounts. In perhaps the most familiar story, Goha and his son respond to the unsolicited criticism of passersby on a trip to a nearby town: first Goha rides the donkey while his son walks, then they switch places, then both ride, and finally, they carry the donkey. Goha's moral: "In life, it is impossible to please everyone." These charming stories provide both a fine introduction to a cultural tradition and a welcome reminder that stories can be a universal pleasure. Ages 5-up. (Aug.)