Book Review: Tunjur! Tunjur! Tunjur! January 11, 2015 10:30

Reviewed by Andrew Stimson

Retold by Margaret Read MacDonald, illustrated by Alik Arzoumanian, Two Lions, 2012, paperback, 32 pp. 

Get the book here!

Palestinian folklorists Ib­rahim Mu­hawi and Sha­rif Ka­naana first captured the ageless folktale of “Tunjur Tunjur” in their invaluable collection Speak, Bird, Speak Again: Palestinian Arab Folktales . Based on their recording of the story as told by Fatme Abdel Qader, of Arrabe, Galilee, and their own research, Muhawi and Kanaana’s version has gritty elements akin to the darker imaginations of the Brothers Grimm fairytales and gives a glimpse into Palestine’s earthy oral traditions. Margaret Read MacDonald’s retelling in Tunjur! Tunjur! Tunjur! is much more child-friendly as well as beautifully illustrated, yet retains the unique essence of the original folktale. Tunjur! is onomatopoetic, derived from the sound of a rolling cooking pot (tunjura). The little rolling pot comes into being after a childless woman prays to God, “I would love a child even if it is nothing more than a cooking pot!” Within a day she has a daughter, a little red cooking pot (God having a droll sense of humor) who grows up banging and clanging her way around the house. One day the pot begs her human mother to let her go to the market on her own. Despite the mother’s worries that her daughter doesn’t yet know right from wrong, she reluctantly allows the little pot to go alone. Along the way the cheerful pot is picked up by a rich merchant who mistakes her for an ordinary if beautiful vessel that he can offer to his wife. He fills her with honey and takes her home, only to throw the pot out the window when he finds that he can’t remove the lid. The little pot rolls home singing a song and her mother mistakes the honey as a gift—and so begins a series of mishaps created by the pot’s mischief. Eventually, when the king devises an ingenious punishment, the pot learns the important lesson of respecting others’ property. The pot’s antics and Arzoumanian’s bold color palette and highly stylized art will endear this book to children 3 to 8 years old. Adults will appreciate the moral tale and MacDonald’s well-paced, musical language, which is fun to read aloud. Tunjur! makes the perfect holiday gift to any child or family.