cover image The Wisdom Bird: A Tale of Solomon and Sheba

The Wisdom Bird: A Tale of Solomon and Sheba

Sheldon Oberman. Boyds Mills Press, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-56397-816-6

Oberman draws on biblical and traditional Jewish and African tales for this clever and affecting story. When the Queen of Sheba hears that King Solomon is the wisest of all men, she journeys with her entourage to Jerusalem to meet him. After a grand reception, she requests that he teach her what he can do with his knowledge. He promises to perform whatever task she sets, and the queen asks him to build a palace out of bird beaks. As Solomon summons all the birds to take their beaks, the hoopoe bird tempts Solomon with three riddles, ""three things you do not know."" The riddles lead Solomon to realize the irreparable harm he is contemplating and he tells the hoopoe, ""I will not hurt you or any creature just to show my power."" He then apologizes to the queen. She responds, ""I wanted you to teach me something important, and you did. You taught me it is better to break a promise than do something that is wrong."" Waldman (previously paired with Oberman for By the Hanukkah Light) captures the thoughtfulness of the two main characters and subtly plays up the differences between them. His Sheba is a poised, dark-skinned woman in royal African attire, replete with magnificent headdress; his Solomon, dressed simply with tallis and kippah, has a flowing red beard and long hair. The full-spread illustrations, which combine compositions in Waldman's impressionistic style with geometric patterned frames, suggest the multiple origins of the story. Ages 6-up. (Sept.)