Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Review: One City, Two Brothers

By Chris Smith, illustrated by Aurelia Fronty. Barefoot Books, 2007. (review copy) Chris Smith has retold this Jewish/Arab fable of how the city of Jerusalem came to be. In the back of the book he says,
"If you ever happen to be traveling, and come to the point where Europe meets Asia, and where Asia meets Africa, you will find a city bursting with history and mystery. [...] This story gives an answer. The tale can be heard in synagogues around the world, told as a Jewish fable. it is also shared by Palestinian Arabs living in and around the city. told as an Arab folk tale."

He continues on telling a little of the history of this great city which has been home to prophets and people of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. Arabs, Turks and Europeans have all ruled there at various times. Readers will find Jerusalem is still often in the news as a disputed place. Reading this folktale gives a little perspective into the history of the people who love her.

The story tells of two brothers who come before their king over a land dispute after their father dies. King Solomon tells them the story of the city.
"Long ago, a river valley curved and curled its way through the land from the hills in the east to the sea in the west, its steep sides lined with orchards of olives and almonds. [...] Two brothers farmed a piece of land on the flat valley floor between the two villages, where the soil was rich and deep - perfect for farming."

The brothers have separate farms, each on his own land, but they work together to plant and harvest. They divide the harvest equally between them until the elder brother marries and starts having a houseful of children. The younger brother stays single, needing only to feed himself. The elder brother, out of gratitude for his wonderful family, thinks his younger brother must be lonely and so he secretly gives him some extra grain. He and his wife are mystified when the count of sacks of grain in their store never lessens. The younger brother has been thinking his elder brother needed a little extra because of all the children in his house... and so the two generous brothers pass each other every night in their secret acts of kindness. They are equally puzzled until one night they run into each other with their donkeys carrying sacks of grain. Their hearts filled with happiness as they realized the love they had both been shown. That hill, between the two villages, was the place where the city of Jerusalem began.
"That blessed spot, where the two brothers met, became the site of the holy temple."

So Chris Smith tells this touching story and brings to us the blessing of the fable.

Aurelia Fronty's paintings are glowing with warm earth colors. Many pages are vibrant greens and blues, showing the hills and valleys as fruitful and luxurious. Bright reds and yellows round out the pallet on alternating pages, bringing the story to life. This is a book to treasure and share. Use it to spark discussions of faith, community, kindness, trust and peace. Use it to expand and compliment discussions of Middle East conflict and peace. Add it to your folktale collection and enjoy it!

Barefoot Books is a small press started by two moms who wanted to publish "high quality picture books that enable children to explore the world's cultural diversity and discover their own creative gifts at the same time." They focus on stories filled with creativity, art, play, and respect for the world's cultures and fragile ecosystems. Visit them on the web here.


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Marcie Flinchum Atkins said...

This is a gorgeous, well-written book. I have it in my "to review" pile. Love it!
World of Words

Dawn said...

Thanks for this wonderful review. I am excited to say that One City, Two Brothers is a Silver Winner in the 2008 Nautilus Book Awards. I am an Independent Stallholder for Barefoot Books and I enjoy being part of this progressive company. If you'd like to learn more about Barefoot, please visit my site at