Clever Ali

Nancy Farmer, Author, Gail de Marcken, Illustrator , illus. by Gail de Marcken. Scholastic/Orchard $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-439-37014-1

In Farmer's (The House of the Scorpion ) pleasing tale set in long-ago Cairo, Ali's father holds a crucial position as the Sultan's pigeon keeper. The pigeons carry messages across Egypt to and from the ruler. When Ali overfeeds one of the birds, chaos results, and the boy must come up with a plan to save his father from certain death in the Sultan's "deep, dark oubliette." The Sultan demands 600 cherries within three days (that "only come by swift ship from the snowy mountains of Syria"). Ali uses the pigeons in an ingenious plan to complete the task. Farmer bases her tale in part on an actual 12th-century ruler who craved fresh cherries from Syria and received them via 600 pigeons. The repetition of phrases recalls the oral tradition, though the book's lengthy narrative may deter read-alouds. Resembling a fable in some parts, historical fiction in others, the tale offers glimpses of this ancient culture (e.g., Ali's father has two wives; men and women live in separate quarters). De Marcken's (The Quiltmaker's Gift ) watercolors take on the richness and palette of silks. She incorporates Arabic script in the borders and Islamic mosaics behind many of the text blocks. While the story contains several morals, the upbeat surprise ending ensures that they do not feel heavy-handed. All ages. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 09/18/2006
Release date: 10/01/2006
Genre: Children's
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