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Aziz the Storyteller

by Vi Hughes, Stefan Czernecki, illus.

Books representing an Islamic perspective garner a lot of interest these days, and Aziz the Storyteller draws on that interest in both its subject matter and its presentation. Though it’s an original story, this first picture book by Vancouver school principal Vi Hughes reads like a tale from the Arabian Nights. Set in a marketplace in the East, it’s about a magic carpet that confers the gift of storytelling upon its owner.

A dreamy boy captivated by the tales he hears in the market, Aziz is berated by his father for not getting down to the business of selling their carpets. Like Jack with his beanstalk, Aziz makes what seems a bad bargain, but turns out to be an exchange that gives him great powers.

The book’s design is striking: the title is hand-lettered in an Arabic script, and the paper is coloured like an aged manuscript. The text itself is presented in a two-colour font that suggests Eastern calligraphy, but herein lies a problem. Though it’s beautiful, the text is difficult to read, particularly for an early reader. The illustrations themselves are cartoonlike line drawings that, while depicting camels, turbans, and Moorish arches, are Western in style. Making the text easier to read and putting more of the cultural background into the pictures would have made the book more accessible to young readers. And the notion that through this book children will discover where stories come from – and how they spread throughout the world (as the jacket blurb suggests) – is more than this simple story delivers.