The Children's Book Garden

Reading and weeding through the best and worst of children's literature

Rumi: A Book I Want to Love February 2, 2010

Rumi book coverA gorgeously illustrated book, Rumi: Whirling Dervish by Demi is one of those books I want for myself, if only to hold the pages up to the lamp so I can watch the intricate gold designs flare up in the light. I was recently at an exhibition featuring pages from an Islamic mystical book with lettering and designs of the same style, and I just find them delightful to the eye. It’s nice to have a children’s book with this much beauty and detail and authenticity to its subject.

But the text itself? Way too much for young children. Not the concepts of Rumi’s spiritual awakening – but the biographical depth. I found the same problem with Peter Sis’ book on Galileo. Also beautiful – but also too granular in the story of a person’s life, not enough emphasis on the main themes and importance of their discoveries.

An example of a passage that doesn’t work:

Then on NOvember 29, 1244, he met Shamsuddin, “Sun of the Faith,” who was from the city of Tabriz in northwestern Iran.

Dates and terms and locations that even I – hate to admit it – have to really think about – locate in terms of my historical and geographical knowledge – I’d like a little more context, myself. Certainly my four-year-old daughter is getting to know the globe, but her sense of the past is still very shaky…

A passage that absolutely does work, however:

Rumi circled and circled… rumi had felt so close to God wile turning that he began teaching the circling dance to his students. They sang:

We come whirling

out of nothingness

scattering stars

like dust.

The stars made a circle

and in the middle

we dance

Those who performed the dance became known as whirling dervishes.

I’m not saying that dates and places need to be nixed from stories for younger children – but I think the story would be more powerful if honed down to its core more – and one thing I do like about Sis in his books is he often includes more details in smaller font, so that the older child or the adult can glean the extra information that a smaller child will find obstructive to the flow of the storyline.

I do give this book an A for effort. Introducing children to stories of people from other cultures and spiritual paths and times widens their world. And a beautiful book gives them the beginnings of appreciation for art. But finding that balance between visual attraction and readability can be a challenge – for any history or biography!

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