Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by R.
Ruler of the Courtyard
A Pakistani girl must cross a wide, sun-drenched
courtyard on her way to the bathhouse each morning,
but a potentially pleasant walk is wrecked by the
presence of a few unrelenting tormentors. Do you know
how dogs seem to be able to smell fear? Apparently,
chicken possess this same strange skill, and they
respond to Saba's insecurity as poultry will: with
flailing wings and wicked pecks.
Ruler of the Courtyard is a story about a
child's fear, told in a voice that is anything but
timid. Evocative language shaped by undulating rhythms
describes Saba's paranoid anxiety: Bony beaks,
razor claws, with GLITTERY eyes that wonder, wonder
as they watch me, how easy it would be to make me
scream. How can Saba overcome her paralyzing
She does make it across the courtyard and into the
cool quiet of the bathhouse, but Rukhsan Khan steers
her heroine into a quandary where she must face a
deadlier foe: Saba spies what appears to be a snake
lying coiled in the corner. She can't get out of the
bathhouse without disturbing it, and if she waits
for her aunt to come through the door, it will attack.
A taut, suspenseful tale unfolds as Saba musters the
bravery to do what must be done.
R. Gregory Christie slathers emotional intensity
across the canvas of his magnificently expressionistic
illustrations: raucous colors electrify his compositions,
while sharp diagonals and crashing lines evoke danger
and alarm. Saba's face is a shifting portrait of emotion.
Trepidation and terror blossom into powerful glee
as she escapes her bathhouse enemy to confront the
courtyard bullies. Chaotic black and white and gray
chicken feathers scatter through the yellow heat of
the air as Saba, triumphant at last, runs at the birds,
arms overhead and mouth wide open in a cry of glory:
I AM MIGHTY SABA! RULER OF THE COURTYARD!
The book's cover reinforces who the true ruler
of the courtyard is: Saba smiles broadly as
she kneels down with a pan of chicken feed. An almost
friendly looking hen approaches. Fear of chickens
(and lenghts of rope masquerading as snakes) subsides
as a young girl discovers hidden reserves of courage.