cover image The Foolish Men of Agra

The Foolish Men of Agra

Rina Singh, Author, Farida Zaman, Illustrator Key Porter Books $14.95 (48p) ISBN 978-1-55013-771-2

These 10 traditional tales center around the alliance of two historic characters--Akbar, Mogul emperor of India in the late 16th century, and Birbal, his trusted Hindu minister. Framed as fables, the brief tales poke comedic fun when the clever Birbal repeatedly turns misdeeds of avarice back upon their perpetrators. In ""Birbal's Khitchri,"" for example, courtiers withhold a prize from a brahmin who endures freezing temperatures, claiming he unfairly warmed himself by gazing at the palace lights. Birbal then invites the swindlers to a feast where he suspends dinner in a pot high above the fire. When they complain that the khitchri will never cook so far from the heat, Birbal argues with whetted wit that ""the brahmin was warmed just by looking at lamplight a mile away!"" Singh's succinct text propels the narratives quickly to satisfying denouements where miscreants get their due and humble insights triumph. Zaman's (The Grandmother Doll) circus-like watercolors, framed by playful renditions of Mogul mosaics and Indian motifs, lend a lavish, energetic atmosphere (although the characters border on caricature). A few of the tales fizzle, but the best possess a spunk and punch that will grab readers' attention. The shrewd humor will be most appreciated by readers at the older end of the target audience. Ages 5-9. (May)