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Forty Fortunes

A Tale of Iran

Book illustration

Retold by Aaron Shepard
Illustrated by Alisher Dianov

Ahmed is content with the living he can make with a pick and a shovel, but that isn’t good enough for his wife Jamell. On her insistence, he finds himself sitting in the marketplace with the dice and board and robe of a fortuneteller. Imagine his surprise when what he tells his first client comes true!

But soon Ahmed is in real peril, when the king calls upon him to discover the thieves of his royal treasure. On one hand is the king with his threat of prison—on the other are the forty thieves who fear Ahmed will reveal them. Can anything save him now? Find out in this most popular folktale of the Islamic world.

Picture book • Ages 7 & up

Aaron Shepard is the award-winning author of The Baker’s Dozen, The Sea King’s Daughter, The Monkey King, and many more children’s books, while his Web site is known internationally as a prime resource for folktales, storytelling, and reader’s theater. Once a professional storyteller, Aaron specializes in lively retellings of folktales and other traditional literature, which have won him honors from the American Library Association, the New York Public Library, the Bank Street College of Education, the National Council for the Social Studies, and the American Folklore Society.

Alisher Dianov began illustrating professionally at the age of 15 in his native Russia and now lives in the United States. He is also illustrator of Aaron’s The Enchanted Storks.


Hardcover ~ 1999

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Book cover


“Shepard’s version is a well-paced combination of humor and action. . . . A lively addition to folklore shelves.”—Grace Oliff, School Library Journal, Aug. 1999

“An exotic cast of characters, humorously depicted in jewel-toned illustrations, keeps readers intently involved. Shepard’s talent for language that flows trippingly off the tongue and his appreciation of Middle East humor make this ideal for reading aloud. The action and fun never stop.”—Jan Lieberman, TNT, Spring 2000

“This retelling of a traditional Iranian folktale has charm and wit, plus brilliant jewel-tone illustrations.”—Family Literacy Center

“Tight-paced humor keeps the pages turning, while Dianov’s art begs to slow them down. Teachers will appreciate the author’s note.”—Tricia Gardella, The Union Democrat, Nov. 26, 1999

“A good folklore book for classroom or family.”—San Diego State University Children’s Literature Program Book Review Service

“A charmer. . . . The colorful, humorous illustrations make a perfect match for a tale of false assumptions and surprising twists. The telling is smooth and funny, a delight to read. Notes at the end give sources and some information about Persian social history. Of its genre, this book stands close to the top.”—Elsa Marston, MultiCultural Review, June 2000

“Entertaining as well as educational. . . . Gives the reader an insight into Iranian customs and beliefs.”—Kathy Ketter, Roving Reviewers, Apr. 2001

Sample Text

That evening, when Ahmed handed her his wages for the day, she said, “Look at these few measly coins! I won’t put up with this any longer. Tomorrow you’ll sit in the marketplace and be a diviner!”

“Jamell, are you insane?” said Ahmed. “What do I know about fortunetelling?”

“You don’t need to know a thing,” said Jamell. “When anyone brings you a question, you just throw the dice and mumble something that sounds wise. It’s either that, or I go home to the house of my father!”

So the next day, Ahmed sold his shovel and his pick and bought the dice and the board and the robe of a fortuneteller. Then he sat in the marketplace near the public bath.

Hardly had he gotten settled when there ran up to him the wife of one of the King’s ministers.

“Diviner, you must help me! I wore my most precious ring to the bath today, and now it’s missing. Please, tell me where it is!”

Ahmed gulped and cast the dice. As he desperately searched for something wise to say, he happened to glance up at the lady’s cloak. There he spied a small hole, and showing through the hole, a bit of her naked arm.

Of course, this was quite improper for a respectable lady, so Ahmed leaned forward and whispered urgently, “Madam, I see a hole.”

“A what?” asked the lady, leaning closer.

“A hole! A hole!”

The lady brightened. “Of course! A hole!”

She rushed back to the bath and found the hole in the wall where she had hidden her ring for safekeeping. Then she came back out to Ahmed.

“God be praised!” she said. “You knew right where it was!” And to Ahmed’s amazement, she gave him a gold coin.

That evening, when Jamell saw the coin and heard the story, she said, “You see? There’s nothing to it!”

“God was merciful on this day,” said Ahmed, “but I dare not test Him on another!”

“Nonsense,” said Jamell. “If you want to keep your wife, you’ll be back in the marketplace tomorrow.”

Sample text copyright © 1999 Aaron Shepard. Top illustration courtesy of Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Company. Illustration copyright © 1999 by Alisher Dianov.

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