On a secluded island, in a faraway sea, the animals live in peace and prosperity. But one day, the winds of fate bring humans to their shore. Down come trees and up go houses, farms, and a bustling market. The humans capture the animals and put them to work. A great sadness falls upon the land, and only a young boy named Adam can hear the animals’ cries. Compelled to act, Adam escapes into the jungle and joins with the remaining free animals, attempting to summon the Spirit King Bersaf. Will the king bring the humans to trial for their harmful actions? Will justice be had? Will balance return to land, sea, and sky?
This multicultural environmental tale is inspired by a 1,000 year old animal fable from 10th century Muslim Iraq, which was originally translated by a Jewish rabbi at the command of a Christian king in the 14th century.
Lumbard and Demi, who previously collaborated on The Conference of the Birds, team up again to retell a 10th-century Iraqi fable first written in Arabic. After traveling to 14th-century Europe, where it was translated into Hebrew and Latin, the fable remained popular in Jewish communities until the early 20th century, Lumbard explains in an author's note. In this rendering, animals "winged and webbed, hoofed and horned, mighty and meek" live peacefully together in an island community. The arrival of humans aboard an ark suggestive of the biblical one changes everything. Humans assault the Earth and enslave the animals until a boy named Adam calls for help from the Spirit King, Bersaf. Endowed with angelic wings and bearing a shining staff, Bersaf teaches humans to become compassionate by bearing the pain the animals feel. In the end, harmony is restored and healing begins. As usual, Demi shines in her richly detailed portrayal of animals. The polarized portrayal of humans as bad and animals as good could raise questions about human intentions toward the Earth, though that nuance may be lost on youngest readers. Ages 5 up.