My name is Abdullah Bin Salim al Ashur and I live with my people in Wadi Hasik close to Al Haffah in the Governance of Dhofar on the southern coast of Oman.
Abdullah and His Grandfather, written by Andy McNab and illustrated by Patricia Al Fakhri (Jerboa Books, 2008) is about the greatest day of eleven-year-old Abdullah's life: the first day his grandfather took him to the wadi (dried riverbed) to harvest Boswellia trees for their luban (frankincense). Luban is essential to Abdullah and his grandfather and their people, and greatly prized in Omani history. Abdullah is very happy and eager to learn how to make a taqii (cut) on Boswellia tree branches using his manqaf (a traditional Arabic tool like a miniature scythe) so that luban will leak from the branches. The luban will harden and in two to three weeks time will resemble large pearls. These pearls of luban can then be removed from the trees and sold in the suqs (traditional Arab market places) of Salalah.
Abdullah and His Grandfather is an absolutely fascinating book. I learned so much about harvesting frankincense - everything from how to prepare a manqaf to how frankincense becomes part of a bokhur (a fragrance that is a blend of many different ingredients). Since Abdullah and his grandfather are exploring the wadi in the story, I also learned about the wadi and the wildlife there. The book also begins with a helpful glossary of Arabic terms and ends with a history of frankincense trade in the region.
The illustrations in the book are impressionistic watercolor paintings in the palette of the sandscapes of Oman. Unfortunately, the book design wasn't very well thought out. The layout for the text and the illustrations seemed random, and because of this it was a little difficult to know when one chapter or part of the story ended and another began.
Abdullah and His Grandfather is a picture book, but it is best for ages 8-12, as Abdullah is 11, and the book is long (97 pages), with serious subject matter and a very formal tone that younger readers may not fully appreciate or have the patience for. But Abdullah and His Grandfather is still entertaining because it is very much about the curiosity and excitement from growing up and having family traditions passed on to you. It is also very much about the relationship between Abdullah and his grandfather.
This book is a must-have for all school and public libraries. I can't think of a more pleasant reading experience for children to learn a bit about Omani culture and heritage.
Abdullah and His Grandfather is also available in Arabic.
[My copy of the book was a gift from my cousin Kate. Thank you, Kate!]