Tag Archives: baghdad

Compass, Vol. 1: The Cauldron of Eternal Life by Robert MacKenzie & Dave Walker illustrated by Justin Greenwood 

Compass, Vol. 1: The Cauldron of Eternal Life by Robert MacKenzie & Dave Walker illustrated by Justin Greenwood 

compasscoverDo you ever find yourself in the middle of an amazing historical fiction fantasy adventure graphic novel, reading as fast as you can to find out what happens next, while simultaneously having absolutely no clue what is going on? Yeah, I am was confused often in this upper YA/Teen (16+) 136 page book set in Europe during the Islamic Golden Age and starring a female from the renown House of Wisdom.  I’m fairly positive it is my own limitations that made the book confusing, but for those wiser and more versed in graphic novels, I would recommend this book.  It has action, adventure, science, history, philosophy, a strong Muslim character, friendship, wisdom, ingenuity, a bibliography, Mongols, Druids, and a dragon.


Shahidah El-Amin is a Compass from the House of Wisdom, she is not a thief, she seeks knowledge which means that she is incredibly educated, fierce, and scrappy: part Indiana Jones, part Tomb Raider perhaps.  She is a hijab wearing, dua invoking, Qur’an quoting, don’t give me alcohol even as you are about to kill me, strong confident Muslim. 

The book opens with her finding an artifact and being betrayed by a fellow scholar and friend, Ling Hua, a Chinese scholar.  The two race to Wales to get to the possibly rumored Calderon of Eternal Life for different reasons and using different methods.  Along the way Shahidah shows her skills in surviving, understanding what her priorities are, and learning about friendship.  She will battle Master Hua, the Khan, a dragon, a bear, the Druids, a leper just to name a few as the fantasy world is developed and built up with historical accuracies thrown in.



I love that the lead is a fierce female Abbasid Muslim from Baghdad and that there are a variety of religions and cultures mentioned and depicted.  It refers to Shahidah as an Arab witch by the enemy and calls Muslims “Mohammedans” which takes a bit of getting used to and I never got comfortable with.  I love the inclusion of ayats in transliterated text of the Arabic, and the concept is wonderful.  I got lost though in some of the world building and plot.  I think the action and illustrations are clear, but the text needed a little clarity in my opinion.  Again, I acknowledge my lack of familiarity with the concepts and format of the book.

I loved the bibliography and the notes included at the beginning and end.  I actually would have liked more information on the House of Wisdom and as always, a map.


The concept and references make it for more mature readers.  There is also violence, a mention to love making, and depicted death, gore, killing, etc..



Even though it is for older readers, I think it would be great on a library shelf for middle grades and up.  It probably isn’t for everyone, and many wouldn’t be tempted by it even, but the few kids that like this kind of content, will absolutely love the book.

The House of Wisdom by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland illustrated by Mary Grandpre’

The House of Wisdom by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland illustrated by Mary Grandpre’

house of wisdom

This 37 page, non fiction book written on a AR 5.1 is a beautiful telling of 9th century Baghdad and the quest, collection, and love of knowledge.  It follows the true story of Ishaq, a young boy who’s father translates books and documents in the House of Wisdom, the intellectual center of everything.


Ishaq has a lot to learn from his father and the books in this majestic place, before he can lead one of the Caliph’s expeditions to search for books.  However, while he acquires his knowledge or Aristotle, Galen, Plato, and Hippocrates, and more, he doesn’t feel the fire, so to speak, of a powerful burning to seek knowledge.

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He finally gets his chance to lead an expedition and he travels the wold for three years, learning, collecting, and experiencing things.  Walking the streets of the great teachers of long ago and readying himself to be a scholar upon his return to Baghdad.

Upon his return, Ishaq’s father presents him with a book by Aristotle and when he opens it he finds the flame consume him.  Ultimately, history will credit Ishaq with translating the entire known works of Aristotle and he and his father Hunayn, and the Caliph al-Ma’mum, with carrying the torch of civilization to the rest of the world.

The book does not mention religion or Islam, but Muslim children at least should recognize names, and words like caliph, and geography enough to know that this is indeed their history.  Non-Muslim children probably will not make the connection, and in some ways, possibly selfish ones, I find that unfortunate.

The illustrations are beautiful and rich in both texture and detail.  They compliment the text wonderfully and really bring the grandness of the story to life.