The Three Princes of Serendip: New Tellings of Old Tales for Everyone
“A delightful children’s book . . . The Three Princes of Serendip is easy to share, lovely to contemplate, and a perfect addition to the story time shelf.”
When a “gatherer of tales” and a cut-paper artist get together, strange and wonderful things start to happen. Beetles become majestic. The desert becomes an accomplice. Fools harbor wisdom. Exotic adventures carry us away.
Exquisite. Elegant. Sumptuous. Brilliant. These are some of the words already used to describe Aalders’ illustrations. Coming up with some grander adjective to surpass those seems impossible. At a loss for a better fitting word, these will be poached and applied here as well. Although desperately wishing our language had more options, it doesn’t get much better than exquisite and sumptuous.
Aalders recreates the Arab landscape with dreamy sophistication paying attention to the very details that make each scene leap alive and draw the reader in tight. We are part of the dream world which seems fantastically impossible and yet, true enough. Using a combination of techniques from simple silhouette to precision cut highly intricate textures, Aalders builds up a picture with layers upon layers to the point where the illusion invites the reader to try to reach out and touch it. Pick a petal off a flower; grab a bird by its tail; open up the ornate courtyard gate and saunter off into the desert sunset; jump on the back of that old donkey. Reader engagement is taken to an intriguing level—release all abandon, go ahead and be immersed. Really impressive.
Our “gatherer of tales,” Al Galidi, manages a very good thing. He does not interfere with the artwork. Instead of the illustrations serving the stories, like most picture books strive to do, here the story serves the illustration. Letting the images drive the show, the stories takes a back seat and is conservative in chiming in only when necessary. So much fun to watch.
The stories Al Galidi has selected are not all that original. Versions of many of them exist in our Western literature, with a few exceptions. We are treated to a collection of 20 tales such as “The Father, the Son, and the Donkey,” where the lesson is to do things the way you will do them and not worry about what others think. “The Poor Woodcutter,” which teaches that what one runs after will be chased away. And “Sindibad,” a tale close to The Alchemist and The Wizard of Oz where our treasure is no further than our own backyard.
“Soup” is a lesson in humility, community, and love. “Murat and His Best Friend” is about betrayal. “The Ant and the Cockroach” speaks to finding ones purpose in life and staying true to it regardless of people’s judgements. “The Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox” pulls on the cleverness of patience and observation. Yes, of course, each story has a moral with nuggets to chew on for a while or to measure up against. Part of the appeal is recognizing one’s own actions in each character of the story.
Our title story, “The Three Princes of Serendip,” is prime material for the smugness of youth besting the elders among them. It’s not clear why this particular tale was selected for the title. Which of us among the collective of elders wants to be put in our place while reading with our youngsters? What exactly is the insinuation behind that? Well, perhaps a sense of humor that our youth have been taught well, and we should trust them out in the great wide world. This is, after all, a children’s book.
A delightful children’s book at that. The Three Princes of Serendip is easy to share, lovely to contemplate, and a perfect addition to the story time shelf.