cover image The House of Wisdom

The House of Wisdom

Florence P. Heide, Judith H. Gilliland, F. Parry Heide. DK Publishing (Dorling Kindersley), $16.95 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-7894-2562-1

The inspiration for Heide and Gilliland's (Sami and the Time of Troubles; The Day of Ahmed's Secret) ambitious tale is the landmark learning institution built in Baghdad in 830 A.D. by the Caliph al-Ma'mun. Told from the persepective of a boy, Ishaq, who lives in the House of Wisdom with his scholar father, the narrative transports readers to the Islamic Empire, at a time of dramatic academic and cultural growth. Ishaq aspires to the scholarly heights of his father, but finds his studies slow-going, unlike the sports he enjoys--""Then the time flew!"" He simply does not share his father's ""fire"" for learning. But when the Caliph one day chooses Ishaq to lead an expedition in search of ancient manuscripts, Ishaq discovers for himself the truth of his father's words--that the scholars of history are ""like the leaves of the same tree, separated by many autumns."" The book's lofty subject and weighty text may make it best suited to those who have already been exposed to history's great thinkers, but all readers can appreciate the authentic feeling of the time and setting. Ishaq's character remains intangible, but the House of Wisdom's contribution to modern civilization comes through loudly and clearly. Grandpr 's (Chin Yu Min and the Ginger Cat) lushly colored pastels detail the ornate patterns of the Baghdad rooftops as easily as they convey the sweltering heat of a caravan of camels. A fitting homage to the quest for knowledge. Ages 4-7. (Sept.)