Ruler of the Courtyard is a riveting tale about confronting and ultimately overcoming fears, a universal theme for young readers. Refreshingly enough, this is truly a book about facing terror. It's not the kind of timid picture book that focuses on preschool nervousness or a case of the jitters.

Sabo, the book's young heroine, lives in what seems to be a hot, foreign country, most likely the native Pakistan of author Rukhsana Kahn. Sabo explains that she has always been afraid of chickens "They've been the very terror of my life." Every day she must confront them, however, and on this day she darts from her home to the nearby bathhouse. Sabo makes a wild run across the yard and slams the bathhouse door in the face of those terrifying cluckers, then leisurely washes her hair. Eventually, however, she notices a snake in the corner, right by the door, her only escape route. Paralyzed with fright, she contemplates killing the snake, then decides to trap it instead, using her bucket. Finally, after many terrifying moments, she succeeds. Next, she realizes that she hasn't captured a snake at all. Instead, she has trapped her grandmother's belt, which lay coiled in the corner. Once Sabo realizes the silliness of her error and terror she begins to laugh. Released from her fear of chickens, she returns to the courtyard and roars at them, proclaiming, "I AM MIGHTY SABO! RULER OF THE COURTYARD!"

R. Gregory Christie's illustrations heighten every element of the story. Each page is framed by a background of hot oranges, yellows and reds, the color of heat and desert. The chickens are black and white splotches that convey movement, while the "snake" is appropriately coiled and colorful.

This visit to Sabo's world is an interesting excursion to foreign soil. Readers may also enjoy more books by Rukhsana Khan, such as Muslim Child: Understanding Islam through Stories and Poems. Her latest offering is a book with which every young child can identify.

Alice Cary writes from Groton, Massachusetts.

 

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