Why teachers will love Daniel Nayeri's Magical Fairy Tale about dreams and assassination attempts | Mentoring in the Middle

Why teachers will love Daniel Nayeri's Magical Fairy Tale about dreams and assassination attempts

 "The first time I was stoned to death by an angry mob, I was not even a criminal."

Teacher friends, what are we to do with a sentence like that?  There's so much richness in those few words!

Think about all the inferencing you can do with that.  The first time implies that there were other times, other angry mobs.  I was not even a criminal implying that he becomes one?  

The gist of this magical, fairytale-like story:

Monkey is having a bad day. The monks, with whom he has lived ever since his guardians died, are in the process of stoning him to death for blasphemy. He is saved, ultimately, by the hand of a mustached stranger named Samir, to whom he is now indebted. 

A life for a life?  


Six bolts of silk for his life.

The problem? Monkey discovers that Samir tends to stretch the truth.  Just a bit.  And when his customers also discover this, they hire assassins to kill Samir. If Monkey is to pay back his debt to Samir of six bolts of silk, then he’s going to have to save Samir's life.

Multiple times. 

And that's where the adventure begins. Set along the Silk Road in the eleventh century, Nayeri's story whisks you back in time to an era of warlords, thieves, merchants, and scholars.

Monkey has been raised by monks and so he spends a good portion of the book sitting in judgment of a lot of the other characters, especially Samir.  Monkey has the ability to faithfully relay Samir’s multiple kindnesses to others, while still standing in judgment of him and finding faults with everything he does.  It doesn't take long to wonder if Monkey's vision is somewhat tainted and if Samir is perhaps not the evil, sinful trader that Monkey portrays him to be.  

Ways to Use It with your students:

It would be fun to discuss with students at what point they discovered that Monkey's point of view wasn't completely reliable.  When did they figure out that Samir, aware that Monkey has had multiple adults in his life who've deserted him, just needed time to appreciate how much Samir cared for him?

There are so many things to like about this book!  It takes students along the Silk Road with all the dangers, thrills, adventures, and traps that were part of that travel.  Monkey's character grows in important ways and Samir enables a lot of that growth.  Monkey's point of view and changing impressions of Samir, make for an interesting discussion about author's purpose and craft.

Students will laugh out loud at the events these two get themselves into.  It put me in the mind of Rick Riordan's Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, whose chapter titles alone make the book worth reading.

This would be a fun book to read on its own, as a read-aloud, or as enrichment for a Social Studies curriculum that explores ancient cultures.

Read some other reviews:

  • Click here to read my review of this year's Newbery Award winner, Freewater, by Amina Luqman-Dawson.
  • When was the last time you read either of these two great classics by Wilson Rawls?
  • Trowbridge Road presents difficult life circumstances with a delicate touch.
  • Sci-Fi and Adventure rolled into one? KyRose Takes a Leap might be the answer! 
Don't forget
to sign up for the FREE virtual 2023 MSELA Summit, the virtual event of the year for Middle School English Language Arts Teachers!  It's being held from July 24-28.  
For five days, this virtual, FREE conference will bring you workshop-style interviews with dozens of teacher guest experts (and I’m one of them!) who have incredibly valuable advice to share with Middle School English / Language Arts teachers as it relates to heading back to school.
Interested?  Click here to register.  

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