Sean Taylor and Khayaal Theatre (text), Shirin Adl (illus.), Riding a Donkey Backwards: Wise and Foolish Tales of the Mulla Nasruddin, Walker Books Australia, June 2018, 48pp., $27.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781910959305
Riddles and tales designed for a young Western audience, Riding a Donkey Backwards is a collection of nonsensical stories about Mulla Nasruddin; a popular and tricky character from Muslim folklore.
The book contains 21 short stories, each on a double page spread, lined with bright, colourful and energetic collage, paper cut and crayon illustrations. Many of the stories include a cultural and religious heritage with references to God (Allah), however the intended focus is on challenging narrow ways of thinking about Islam by bringing the Muslim culture to life through poems, stories, imagination and humour.
Nasruddin features in each story as a joker. His antics are portrayed in real life situations, such as solving conflicts, lessons on life, death and money, and riding donkeys! The tales are told with verve and all lead to a foolish punchline. Why does he ride his donkey backwards? Why does he paint a blank picture? Why does he spoon yoghurt into the river?
Riding a Donkey Backwards is catered for a specific Middle Eastern market. Children from this culture will enjoy the absurdity of the humour in these classic tales and understand references to Islamic terms and beliefs. For readers from age four.
Reviewed by Romi Sharp