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Shadow Spinner
Jean Karl Books
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Shadow Spinner

Every night, Shahrazad begins a story. And every morning, the Sultan lets her live another day—providing the story is interesting enough to capture his attention. After almost one thousand nights, Shahrazad is running out of tales. And that is how Marjan's story begins.

It falls to Marjan to help Shahrazad find new stories—ones the Sultan has never heard before. To do that, Marjan is forced to undertake a dangerous and forbidden mission: sneak from the harem and travel the city, coaxing strangers to tell her stories and bringing them back to Shahrazad. But as she searches the city, a wonderful thing happens. Marjan, who had been just a quiet spinner of tales when the story began, becomes the center of a story more surprising than she ever imagined.


Book Discussion Guide from Multnomah County Library

A note from the author

You’ve heard about the famous legendary storyteller, Shahrazad? You know, the one who had to tell a new story every night for 1001 nights—otherwise her husband would kill her? Even if you haven’t heard of Shahrazad, you’ve probably heard some of the stories she told: “Aladdin,” “Sindbad the Sailor,” “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” and many, many more.

I got to thinking about the legend of this remarkable woman, Shahrazad. She actually volunteered for the job! Nobody was forcing her to marry that awful sultan. He had a grudge against women, so he would marry one in the daytime, spend the night with her, and have her killed the following morning. But Shahrazad had an idea to stop the killings. She would marry him, then get him interested in a story she was telling. It would be a long story, too long for just one night. So if he wanted to hear how the story came out ... he would have to let her live another day. Her plan worked. But the problem was, she had to keep it up for a long time. Really long. Almost-three-years long.

I loved the idea of a hero who saves a bunch of people’s lives—not by going out and fighting and killing and stuff like that—but simply by telling stories. But I knew that if I had to think up a new story every night for 1001 nights, I’d get storyteller’s block for sure! I began to wonder what might happen if Shahrazad did get storyteller’s block. Might someone help her find new stories? Maybe a younger girl, someone who admired Shahrazad for her courage and her skill? And then what if the events of the story required this girl to develop her own courage and storytelling skills?

The other thing I loved about working with the legend of Shahrazad was that it gave me a chance to reflect upon the importance of storytelling. Because I tell stories too—only in a different way. I make them up and write them down. Sometimes I get the impression that my family members (who mostly work in the sciences) think that devoting one’s life work to stories is, well, maybe a little bit loopy. So the “Lessons for Life and Storytelling” in the book are meditations, kind of. Reflections on why it’s important to read stories, tell stories, write stories. Stories can save your life!

A treat from the author

Want to try making sharbat? Here are two different recipes, thanks to my friend Zohre Bullock.

Sour-Cherry Sharbat
3 cups fresh or frozen pitted sour cherries or canned ones with their juice
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Squeeze or process the cherries in a juicer.
2. Bring the cherry juice, sugar, and water to a boil in a saucepan. Simmer for 25 minutes until syrup thickens.
3. Remove pan from heat, add vanilla and allow to cool.
4. Pour syrup into a clean dry bottle. Cork tightly.
5. In a pitcher, mix 1/4 syrup, 3/4 water and 2 ice cubes per person. Stir and serve well chilled.
Vinegar Sharbat (This is my favorite—easy to make and delicious)
6 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups wine vinegar
4 sprigs fresh mint
1 cucumber, peeled and grated
lime slices and sprigs of mint for garnish
1. Bring sugar and water to boil and simmer 10 minutes until sugar has dissolved.
2. Add vinegar and boil 25 minutes over medium hear until thick syrup forms.
3. Wash mint and pat dry. Add it to the syrup. Allow to cool. Remove mint and pour syrup into clean dry bottle. Cork tightly.
4. In a pitcher, mix 1/4 syrup, 3/4 water and 2 ice cubes per person. Add cucumber and stir well. Pour into glasses and decorate with garnishes.
Click here if you'd like a printable recipe.

Awards and recognition

ABC Children's Bookseller Choice List, 1999
American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults
American Library Association Notable Books for Older Readers
Arizona Young Reader Book Award nominee, 2002
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon, 1998
Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best List, 1998
Children’s Book Council, Notable Children’s Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies
Children’s Literature Choice List, 1999
Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award nominee, 2001
Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award nominee (Vermont), 1999-2000
Junior Library Guild Selection
Jury der Jungen Leser Kinderbuchpreis, 2003
Land of Enchantment Book Award nominee (New Mexico), 2000-2001
Lone Star Reading List (Texas), 2000-2001
Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Book Award nominee, 2000-2001
Maud Hart Lovelace Award nominee (Minnesota), 2000-2001
NCTE Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts, 1999
Nevada Young Reader Book Award nominee, 2002
Oregon Battle of the Books Booklist 2007-2008
Oregon Book Award finalist, 1999
Oregonian Book Club Selection
Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice nominee, 1999-2000
Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award nominee (Illinois), 2001
School Library Journal Best Books, 1998
South Carolina Junior Book Award nominee, 2000-2001
Utah Book Awards nominee, 2000-2001
Volunteer State Book Award finalist (Tennessee), 2001-2002
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