Fifteen brief stories, some from oral tradition (Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Orient) and others transcribed as early as the fifth century (in Babylon) or as late as the nineteenth. Full notes give sources and point out parallels with more familiar stories--""The Water Witch,"" a variant of ""Hansel and Gretel,"" features a Solomonic whale king; the Turkish ""Katanya"" is a Thumbelina-like child, gift of the prophet Elijah--who also rewards a hard-working rag-merchant in ""The Magic Sandals of Abu Kassim."" Many of the stories are didactic, but the instruction is always gentle. The philosophically generous tone is dramatically exemplified in ""The Bear and the Children"": after the mother has rescued her children from the bear's belly, she replaces them with loaves of bread so that ""when the bear awoke, his belly was full, and he was perfectly happy""--an extraordinary contrast to the retributive justice in the Grimms' ""The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids. ""Clear, well-honed language, intriguing detail, good pacing, and lots of variety make this an excellent choice for storytellers. Appealing format and Shulevitz's occasional full-page watercolors--elegantly structured, rich with the stories' flavor and wit, and painted in bright, sunny colors that perfectly reflect their lighthearted wisdom--will recommend the book to young readers. A fine collection that belongs in every library.