Joha Makes a Wish: A Middle Eastern Tale by Eric Kimmel

Kimmel, Eric. 2010. Joha Makes a Wish: A Middle Eastern Tale. Ill. by Omar Rayyan. New York: Marshall Cavendish Children. ISBN 9780761455998.

Kimmel’s adaptation of Joha Makes a Wish is an entertaining story of a who, on his way to Baghdad, finds a wishing stick.  Upon reading the note that tells him what the object is, Joha immediately wishes for red leather sandals.  However, instead of the red leather sandals, his own ragged shoes disappear.  In fact, all of his wishes go awry including his wish for a donkey to carry him.  Instead, the sultan’s guards hear a different wish.  “‘Did you hear that?’ their leader said. ‘This fellow wishes he had a donkey to carry.'” When Joha, at the sultan’s command, tries to wish a wart off of the sultan’s nose and ends up causing the wart to multiply, Joha finds himself on the run.  He is saves by a shopkeeper who not only hides him from the guards, but also explains Joha’s problem with the stick.  Joha has been holding the wishing stick upside down.  Upon righting the stick, Joha agrees to fix the sultan’s nose because it is the right thing to do.  When he has cured the sultan, Joha is tricked out of the wishing stick.  The sultan does give him the donkey as a reward though.  Joha’s conversation with his donkey at the end is extremely satisfying to the adult reader.

“‘Donkey, do you think I should go back and tell the sultan he has to hold the stick the right way?’

‘Hee-haw!’ the donkey brayed.

‘I agree,’ said Joha.  ‘He can figure that out for himself.'”

Rayyan’s watercolor illustrations are beautiful.  All of the right hand illustrations have dynamic gold borders that the characters sometimes interact with, for example when the sultan’s guards first appear, Joha has climbed the border.  The pictures show a beautiful difference between the barefoot and patched Joha and the elaborately dressed sultan.  While the pictures do not give an accurate representation of the culture, they do give an entertaining one.

The shopkeeper’s message to Joha seems to be the overarching lesson of Joha Makes A Wish.  He says “‘This wishing stick is a wonderful thing if you know how to use it,’ said the old man.  ‘However, before you make any more wishes you need to go back to the sultan and fix his nose.  It is the right thing to do.'”  Even “wonderful” magic sticks come with instructions and should be used to do what is right.

It would be fun to let the kids make their own wishing sticks.  Ask them what they would wish for and what would happen if they wished for that while their stick was upside down.  After all, Joha made small wishes that went terribly wrong.  It is also an opportunity to teach kids to work for the big things in life as opposed to simply wishing.

FOREWORD: “‘Joha stories’ are a fixture of Arabic folklore; this particular rendition is filled with words and illustrations that will teach children about ancient Middle Eastern culture while surely making them laugh”
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “Joha is a small man with large hands and feet and a long, thin, expressive face beneath a generous turban.  His frayed sandals and patched trousers contrast with the splendor of the robust sultan and his armored guards.  Joha’s misadventures and the trouble he causes the sultan depart liberally from their folklore and cultural roots but offer and enjoyable escapade demonstration that universal scheme of the unwitting little guy getting the better of those in power.”

Awards: Nominated for the Black-Eyed Susan Book Award


Belanger, Lydia. 2010. “Book Review: Joha Makes a Wish: A Middle Eastern Tale.” ForeWord Reviews.

Bush, Margaret. 2010. “Joha Makes a Wish: A Middle Eastern Tale.” School Library Journal 56, no. 4: 132. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed September 25, 2013)

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