Title: Seven Daughters and Seven Sons
Author: Barbara Cohen and Bahija Lovejoy
Major Themes: 13th century, Middle East, Historical Fiction, Ancient Arabian Life
Synopsis: A retelling of an ancient Arab tale about a young woman who sets up shop in a distant city to help her impoverished family.
Seven Daughters and Seven Sons is one of my all-time favorites. Who doesn’t love a girl who leaves home to help her poor family, and in the process both takes revenge on her unkind uncle and finds a handsome prince? This is, in a way, a fairy tale—but a fairy tale written in such a way that it’s believable and fascinating to hear.
Buran, the daughter of the man called “Abu al-Banat”—the father of daughters—grew up in a strict Arab Muslim family. At that time, daughters were a curse, and when her uncle’s sons became old enough to go out in the world and make his family richer, her uncle humiliated her father daily by boasting about his sons prospering in the ports where they were sent. Of course, girls couldn’t do anything like that—although Buran had always wanted to and begged her parents to let her try.
One day, when the family was on the brink of poverty, Buran’s father finally relented and let her take on a dangerous mission—go to a trading city and set up shop, where she could do business as a man. After a long, perilous journey, she reached Tyre, and she was able to set up a shop. There, she met the young prince of Tyre, and although he thought she was a man they soon became close friends. One day, the secret would have to be known—and then would their deep friendship stand?
I love Seven Daughters and Seven Sons because besides just being a delightful tale it also gives its readers a good idea of how the ancient Arabs lived and what their lives looked like. You get an inside view that isn’t seen often in books. Even though I am a Christian, I found it fascinating to hear about the Islamic faith in an in-depth way. This book is great for older readers (mid-teenage and up), although I do not recommend it to younger children to read on their own. Read aloud with parental guidance and censoring makes the story great for younger listeners—ages nine and older would especially enjoy it.
WARNING: This book contains a lot of places parents should be aware of before allowing their children to read it alone. Since it is such a great picture of Arabian life—something we don’t find often—I have decided to include it. Mom read this aloud to my brothers recently, and she said that many places were fairly easy to skip over or change. Here are the places you should check before your children read—we’ve tried to find all of them, but won’t guarantee they’re all here. I’ll include a few examples, as well, so you know what the places are generally like.
(Note: This book is not broken into chapters, so I can only give you page numbers.)
pg. 47, last paragraph
pg. 98, first six paragraphs (“‘What about the girls?’ he asked directly….”)
pg. 106, third paragraph
pg. 107, first paragraph (“I called for the slave girl who pleased me most…”)
pg. 108, first paragraph (very direct)
pg. 137, fourth paragraph (“At that moment, our two bodies and our two souls will become one.”)
pg. 141, second paragraph
pg. 148, second paragraph
pg. 151, first and third paragraphs (First paragraph can be scribbled out [it is a description of a female’s body]. From third: “My body was….”)
pg. 162, second to last paragraph (“I realized then that I wasn’t the only woman that had noticed his…”)
pg. 164, fourth and fifth paragraphs
pg. 165, first paragraph
Listening Level—Ages 10 – 12
Reading Independently—Ages 15 and Above, Adults