Mischief in Fez, by Eleanor Hoffmann, was first published in 1943.
Until Mousa’s father, the judge, brought a stepmother home to their palace in Fez, Mousa had always been very happy. But no sooner did Fatma arrive than trouble began. Such trouble! The beautiful fountain became clogged with date stones, thrown there by someone. The oranges disappeared from the judge’s favorite orange tree—not to mention ever so many other upsetting things, most of which were blamed on poor Mousa. Mousa felt sure that Allak, Fatma’s disagreeable gazelle, had a great deal to do with this mysterious mischief. But he never would have solved the riddle without Baha, the little desert fox, or without the magic the Toubib gave him.
Mischief in Fez is a story I read over and over again as a child. It was featured in one of the many anthologies of children’s literature my parents had. I’ve always remembered the story, but until recently, I couldn’t remember the name—until I did a quick Google search. Then, to my delight, my library carried it. I was all set to delve once more into a beloved childhood story.
Mischief in Fez may be short, but it’s full of myth and culture in a way that I don’t feel is haphazard or disrespectful at all. It’s almost reverent, in a way, of Middle Eastern beliefs, and it reads as if Hoffman actually spent some time in the area. Perhaps other people feel differently, but I feel as if Mischief in Fez is an accurate, if a small representative sample, of Middle Eastern culture. And to be honest, that’s not seen a lot today—for various reasons.
The story/novella is quite short, so there’s not much else I feel I can say about it besides the story is good: suitably tense in places and delightfully heartwarming in others. What I remembered most is the little fennec, Baha, and he is definitely the star of the show, even more so than Mousa, who I scarcely remembered at all.
Mischief in Fez is a perfect read-aloud or read-along book for children, with plenty to discuss about myth, certain aspects of Middle Eastern culture, and, most importantly, the drive to defeat evil. It’s a fond memory of my childhood, one I’m glad I decided to return to.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Children’s, Fantasy
Only the bride herself remained aloof and indifferent to the new mischiefs that seemed to be occurring each day. As she passed from room to room, her beauty made all her servants forget the grave looks of the master. And Allak, the gazelle, as he frisked about the court, cheered them with something alive and graceful to look at, for, like Mousa, they missed the doves.
But Mousa, to his surprise, found no pleasure in watching his stepmother’s gazelle. In all his life this was the first animal that he had not loved,–perhaps because he had been so sharply forbidden to touch him, perhaps because of the disdainful twitching of his nostrils, the hostile glowering of his eyes. Was it possible, he wondered, that Allak had stolen and devoured the oranges?