This April we will be dusting off our magic carpets and journeying to Iran… but since we’re going back in time as well, we could also say Persia. We are flying far beyond Disney to discover the original Aladdin tale from A Thousand and One Arabian Nights.
I’m guessing that almost all the SunBee kids are familiar with Disney’s Aladdin. There’s so many great things about that funny and sparkly film, but I never really loved it for one reason- it talks over the kids’ heads. It was the first of many animations for children that did so, and after Aladdin, from Shrek to Dispicable Me, almost all films for children have this kind of irony. In Disney’s Aladdin, Genie makes many cultural references and jokes that are for the parents and not for the kids. I think that on some level the children feel this. Irony makes for a story that stands outside itself and doesn’t really take itself seriously. The stakes are lower. Much lower than in earlier films such as Disney’s Snow White, for example- nobody is laughing at that witch skulking in the swamps with a blood-bright apple. The villain in Aladdin is a touch ridiculous and we are never in awe of the genie- although he is funny and endearing, he has no mystery.
At SunBee Circle we learn where stories come from, how they are thousands of years old sometimes, that the real versions are often darker and more magical and more complex than the Americanized versions and there are so many cultures other than our own. In the real Aladdin, the villian is a seriously powerful magician. The genie is a jinni! (I just think that spelling is more dazzling). A jinni in Islamic lore is somewhere between an angel and a human. They are spirits of fire. Like humans, they can choose to be bad or good so you have to be a bit on your guard when you find one.
SunBee Circle always has an activity after the story to encourage dramatic play. What potential Aladdin has! We will play dress-up with old clothes (not the ready-made kind- we like to use our imaginations!) We will choose treasures from a magic chest. We might try to tell stories like Scheherazade or use vinegar to transform tarnished pennies into golden coins. The possibilities are endless with this one!
Although you can find Aladdin in any translation of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, this famous and beloved collection is not particularly a children’s book. I really like Best-Loved Folktales of the World by Joanna Cole for reading aloud to children. It’s a great collection of diverse tales and all of them are appropriate for little ones, so you won’t be merrily reading aloud and stumble onto, um, an extremely bawdy passage!