Meeting the high standards set by her previous picture-book biographies, Stanley (Michelangelo; Joan of Arc) here focuses on the 12th-century ruler known as "the Muslim saint-king" who was "praised even by his enemies as 'the marvel of his time' " and crystallizes many of the issues still at the root of conflicts today. Stanley begins with a concise overview of the First Crusade, then hypothesizes about the impact of the Franks' murderous conquest of Jerusalem on the young Saladin, a devout Muslim (after listing Jerusalem's importance to the "three great religions," the boy poses a question: "Couldn't everyone just share it?"). The author outlines religious practices, the political history of the Middle East and of Western Europe, and the vexed military campaigns for Jerusalem, once again demonstrating her trademark ability to research and then distill complex topics in terms accessible to middle-graders. She painstakingly builds readers' sense of Saladin's integrity and skilled leadership. For example, when his army was poised for certain victory over the Christians holding Jerusalem, he wrote to a knight proposing generous conditions for their surrender: "I believe that Jerusalem is the House of God, as you also believe. And I will not willingly lay siege to the House of God or put it to the assault." Stanley's precise, detailed artwork pays homage to period architecture. She evokes the colors of Persian miniatures (and medieval stained glass) as her paintings incorporate the complex patterning associated with Islamic art. Portraits of Saladin at home, sitting in front of gorgeously tiled walls with his family, arrayed in sumptuous robes, are particularly effective in conveying the richness of the subject's world. Readers are certain to be intrigued. Ages 8-12. Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Grade 3-7-Attentive readers of this book-those who can wrest their eyes from the illustrations-will learn some history, some geography, and quite a lot about Islam, as well as about the life of Salah al-Din. (One interesting fact is that he was neither an Arab nor a Turk, but a Kurd.) Even more important, however, may be the chance to put oneself in the shoes of "the enemy," an exercise that is as useful today as it would have been in 1099. Anyone who still harbors romantic ideas about the Crusades will be disabused of them here. The harsh glare of history scours secular and religious leaders alike. Even Richard the Lionhearted appears as both a brilliant commander and "an obnoxious bully," and in light of his slaughter of 3000 hostages at Acre, who could disagree? Saladin is not depicted as flawless, and the attitude of Islam toward women is noted. Yet, on the whole, the great and generous Muslim leader is portrayed as being far nobler than any competitor. Each full page of text is a mini-chapter, a self-contained part of the overall narrative, so that readers can pause and linger over the opposing full-page illustration. These pictures, enlivened by saturated, jewel-like blues, reds, and greens, combine Western realism with pattern and composition recalling Turkish miniatures. Countless details of dress, armor, domestic interiors, and landscape evoke the period and setting. The beauty and sophistication of Islamic culture shine through Stanley's glorious pictures. A timely and splendid addition to the author's earlier biographical profiles. Patricia D. Lothrop, St. George's School, Newport, RI Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.