The Turkey Prince Review

The Turkey Prince
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According to the inner flap of this children's book, the story of "The Turkey Prince" is based on "an old Hasidic tale" but gives no other source info. However, the tale does have a known author: Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, known as the Breslover Rebbe, who first told it to his disciples in the early 1800s. It was later published in a collection edited by his chief disciple, Reb Noson of Nemirov, and can be found in English translation in "Rabbi Nachman's Stories" by Aryeh Kaplan (see pp. 479-480).
The tale itself is in the common domain, and appears in a number of other collections as "The Rooster Prince." (There is some debate as to exactly which barnyard bird "truthahn" originally referred to in Yiddish.) When I was a child I heard it told as "The Rooster Prince," and thought of the prince as being "chicken." The switch to "turkey" is more recent and might be because of modern English slang. In this book, the prince "knew he was a turkey" in the sense that he did not feel competent to one day become king and lead the people like his father did.
Like many classic fairy tales, the original version of the Turkey Prince was not intended to be a children's story. It was a parable that Rebbe Nachman told to his disciples about how to bring non-religious Jews back to Judaism, and/or how to become more Torah-observant onesself. A Jew who has left Judaism has forgotten who he truly is and, like the Prince, is sitting "naked" -- without the proper "garments" to clothe the soul. In recent years, Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum wrote an entire Hasidic self-help book based on this story, entitled "Under the Table and How to Get Up" (available here on Amazon.)
The original is quite short (only a page or so) and the prince is already crazy at the beginning of the tale. In this book, we go back and learn that this happened because he got stage fright at a royal banquet. This is followed by a detailed description (with cute illustrations) of how he took off his clothes. In the original, he sits stark naked under the table, but here he keeps his shorts on, which makes it appropriate for everyone in terms of modesty. After that, the book follows the original pretty closely, right down to the dialogue about how a turkey can wear clothes, eat good food, etc.
As in the original, various people come to the palace and try to cure the Turkey Prince. In the illustrations here, they are dressed in all sorts of costumes and silly hats, presumably to tempt him to wear clothes. But only the "unknown healer" knows the secret cure -- to pretend that he, too, is a turkey, make friends with the prince, and convince him that a turkey can do everything a normal person does. The original story ends here, but this book adds a follow-up about what happened to the prince when he grew up.
The School Library Journal review rather disparagingly called this a "psychological" story about "self-esteem", with a "psychiatric" cure that "may appeal more to adults who espouse its values than to children" (word in quotes are the Journal reviewer's). I disagree. This negative opinion is based more on the description from the inside flap (presumably aimed at parents who buy the book) than the story itself, which is no more "psychiatric" than any other parable. Hasidic children and adults were enjoying this story long before Sigmund Freud. Like many fairy tales, it is a teaching story with a moral, true. But it is also great fun, with just the right amount of silliness to get the point across without being preachy. And, like any good parable, it is a story that grows deeper with every telling. As a child I loved this story. As an adult Breslover Hasid, I thoroughly enjoyed this version. I recommend it to Hasidim and non-Hasidim alike.

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Based on a heart-stirring Hasidic tale, The Turkey Prince tells the story of a young prince who believes he is a turkey.One evening at a royal banquet, the flustered young prince is pushed forward to make a speech, but the pressure of it turns him into a turkey. People from miles around are called in to help . . . but nothing works until one day a mysterious healer comes to the palace. Stunning and unique illustrations capture the spirit of this unusual story, making The Turkey Prince a precious gift to anyone who has ever felt like a turkey inside.

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