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Middle East - unspecified

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Middle East – Country Unspecified – Sufi Tale


Young, Ed. 2002. What about me? New York: Philomel Books.


Rating: ♥♥♥1/2 (out of ♥♥♥♥♥). (Picture taken from


Summary: “A young boy determinedly follows the instructions of the Grand Master in the hope of gaining knowledge, only to be surprised as how he acquires it. Based on a Sufi Tale” (Young, CIP page).


Type: cumulative tale


Characters: The characters are one-dimensional. The boy wants “knowledge” more than anything, and he is willing to work hard to get it. By knowledge, the author seems to mean spiritual wisdom because the boy requests knowledge from a “Grand Master,” a religious person who is highly esteemed. The boy also is giving. Even when he is discouraged by his own quest, he is willing to help people around him. We do not learn much about the other characters except that everyone but the Grand Master has needs, and everyone puts his/her own needs first. The Grand Master seems wise, selfless, and highly evolved.


Setting: In a note preceding the text, the author or editor writes that this is a Sufi tale from the Middle East. “The Sufi, wise masters and disciples of a religion whose origin is in the Middle East, have passed down these tales for thousands of years” (unpaged). The text itself does not make any reference to the location, but the illustrations depict Middle Eastern clothing.  The opening line, “Once there was a boy,” tells readers that this tale takes place in the distant past (unpaged).


Plot: The boy goes on a quest for wisdom, a familiar plot in folktales and fantasy. His quest leads him many unexpected places, and he learns that people generally give only if they gain something.  However, the boy is willing to give without expecting anything in return. When he does so, the puzzle pieces begin to fit together and the boy is able to satisfy both others’ needs and his own.  At the end, the Grand Master says that the boy already has gained all the wisdom he needs during his quest. The cumulative feature is the increasing repetition when the boy makes a request and each person says something like, “What about me? I need....”   In the second part, text repetition occurs when the boy gives each person something he/she needs and the person gives the boy what he needs. 


Themes:  Young spells out the Grand Master’s two morals on the final page. Young writes, “Some of the most precious gifts that we receive are those we receive when we are giving” and “Often, knowledge comes to us when we least expect it.” Thus, the themes seem to be the beauty and joy of giving selflessly and the value of life experience in teaching us wisdom. In addition, as the Wizard of Oz illustrates, people often possess the traits or knowledge they seek from outside themselves.  Sometimes people need to further develop the traits or knowledge, but they are within reach.


Rating Considerations:  While Publishers Weekly states that the audience is ages 4-8, this book seems more geared toward adults than children (2002).  Furthermore, I would have enjoyed the story more if Young did not spell out the two morals or if he shared them in a more subtle manner.


Illustrations:  Overall, the illustrations work well.  Young creates collages from cut paper, fabric, and watercolor, and he frames each page with a thin gold line and blue or green borders. The small characters sit on a larger piece of grey or tan speckled paper, “which suggest landscapes simultaneously physical and metaphysical" (Publishers Weekly, 2002). On some pages, readers will delight in the varying patterns and the semblance of textures. In the first half, the figures are mostly static. In the second half, the boy runs, floats, and dances back to his destination, and he almost seems to be leaping from one double-page to the next. Young never shows a front-view of facial feathers, perhaps out of respect for Sufi tradition. Characters are seen from side views; the one time readers see a whole face, it contains no facial features.