Emma and her dog, Tristan, steal down to the moonlit sea for some quiet time and find a mysterious bottle bobbing on the waves; inside, of course, is a genie.
Karim can’t grant wishes; he’s the one who needs help. Evil genie Sahim stole his nose ring, source of his power, and imprisoned him in the bottle. Emma, Tristan and Karim head via flying carpet for Barakash, where Sahim now rules, to recover the nose ring and free the city’s caliph and citizens. Meyer’s whimsical art is packed with quirky details and expressive humor (the supercilious dromedary’s a delight), neatly enhancing Funke’s droll humor. First published in Germany in 2002, this entertaining tale has plenty of charm, but it will have an uncomfortable aftertaste for some. This Disney-fied Arabian Nights territory draws from the well of Western popular culture, where normal is fair and cute, exotic is dark and comically alien, and color’s a reliable indicator for good and evil. The flying carpet and palace are beautiful; the caliph’s grandmother is “a big woman with a beard and blue patterns on her face.” With tight word counts, restrictive vocabulary and language parameters, chapter books rely on their audience to fill in details from shared cultural assumptions. In an increasingly diverse society, notions of what is normal and what is exotic to readers call for frequent reassessment.
Training wheels for Funke’s future fans. (Fantasy. 7-9)