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ONE RIDDLE, ONE ANSWER by Lauren Thompson


by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Linda S. Wingerter

Age Range: 6 - 9

Pub Date: March 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-590-31333-5
Publisher: Scholastic

A math-loving sultana challenges her suitors to solve a riddle in an original tale that puts an appealingly independent young woman in charge of a traditional fairytale-style “beauty contest.” A powerful Persian sultan wants only the best of husbands for his only daughter, Aziza, and when his advisors fail him, he allows her to dictate the terms of her courtship. She announces that she will marry whoever can answer her riddle: “Placed above, it makes greater things small. Placed beside, it makes small things greater. In matters that count, it always comes first. Where others increase, it keeps all things the same. What is it?” An astronomer, a soldier, and a merchant in turn fail to solve the riddle, but Ahmed, a young farmer who loves numbers, answers the riddle and wins the sultana’s hand. Aziza’s riddle is tricky enough to be satisfying, but not too obscure for older children to solve on their own. Thompson (Mouse’s First Halloween, p. 968, etc.) includes an author’s note explaining the riddle and its solution fully, as well as Persia’s place in the history of mathematics. Wingerter’s (Bird Tales from Near and Far, 1998) delicate jewel-and-pastel acrylics evoke a glowing storybook Persia, and cleverly illustrate the solutions to the riddle as Ahmed answers it. Taken down to its bare bones, the book’s marriage plot is as old as the hills, but Aziza’s intelligence and the lovely illustrations make it a pleasing example thereof. (Picture book. 6-9)