Never Say a Mean Word Again: A Tale from Medieval Spain
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Never Say a Mean Word Again: A Tale from Medieval Spain

  • by: Jacqueline Jules

  • illustrated by: Durga Yael Bernhand

  • Juvenile fiction






Date Available:

Available now




Lexile Measure: 480L


8″ x 10″

Page Count:


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  • Pages 2-3

  • Pages 14-15

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“Make sure Hamza never says another mean word to you,” Samuel’s father orders.

What should Samuel do? His father is Grand Vizier, the most important advisor in the royal court. No one disobeys the Vizier. But how can Samuel make sure Hamza will never insult him again? Inspired by a powerful legend of conflict resolution in Muslim Spain, Never Say a Mean Word Again is the story of a boy who accidentally turns an enemy into a friend.

This charming tale is told from the point of view of Samuel, and follows him on his perplexing quest to neutralize an enemy. The surprise solution unfolds so naturally that readers are tempted to laugh along with Samuel and his previous enemy!

The story crafted by well-known author Jacqueline Jules rings true as a timeless puzzle faced by children of all ages: How to deal with an aggressor? The extraordinary illustrations by Ms. Bernhard, based on historical research of the time and place, evoke the spirit of Andalusian Spain. Through her knowledge of boys of all ages, Bernhard was also able to capture the spirit of two lively and very different young boys who could just as easily have lived today as in medieval Spain!


  • Chosen as an Honor Book in the 2015 Sydney Taylor Book Awards, “Younger Reader” category (sponsored by the Association of Jewish Libraries)
  • Finalist of the 2014 National Jewish Book Awards in the category “Illustrated Children’s Books” (sponsored by the Jewish Book Council)
  • Honorable Mention in the “Picture Book” category of the 2014 Middle East Book Awards
  • Recipient of a 2014 Aesop Accolade, awarded by the Children’s Folklore Section of the American Folklore Society
  • Finalist in the “Children’s Picture Book: Hardcover Fiction” category of The USA “Best Books 2014” Awards, sponsored by USA Book News
  • Selected as one of 10 “Best Spiritual Children’s Books” of 2014 by Spirituality & Practice (
  • Honor Award in the 2015 Skipping Stones Honor Awards, in the category “Multicultural & International Books”


  • “Inspired by a legend about a Jewish vizier who advised the Muslim ruler of medieval Spain, this story tells of a conundrum faced by a boy named Samuel and the counterintuitive wisdom of his father, the vizier. After Samuel accidentally offends Hamza, the tax collector’s son, and incurs his rage (‘Donkey Brain! Stupid! Look what you did!’), Samuel’s father instructs him, ‘Make sure Hamza never says a mean word to you again.’ With illuminating details—such as the boys’ headwear, backdrops of thick stone walls or heavy wooden doors, geometric patterns in mauves and browns, and a vine and flower motif—Bernhard’s (Around the World in One Shabbat) illustrations convey an elegant, multicultural castle environment. Energy and movement infuse the paintings, which humorously render Samuel’s contemplated strategies (‘Maybe he could train a monkey to sit on Hamza’s shoulders. The monkey could clamp Hamza’s lips shut’). Jules’s (the Zapato Power series) down-to-earth narrative communicates Samuel’s subtle internal transformation as the unexpected, amusing, and touching outcomes of his attempts to obey his father turn a power struggle into a budding friendship. Ages 4–8.”

    – Publishers Weekly

  • “A story of bullying, acceptance, and friendship, Never Say a Mean Word Again: A Tale from Medieval Spain, by Jacqueline Jules, is loosely inspired by a legend about a Jewish poet who was the vizier and military commander to the Muslim caliph (or king). It is a delightful account of turning meanness and rudeness into kindness and friendship.… Jules has crafted a folk tale that is sure to please. She writes in a gracious and enjoyable way, with simplicity and humor, as evidenced in one of Samuel’s dismissed ideas: “Maybe he could train a monkey to sit on Hamza’s shoulders. The monkey could clamp Hamza’s lips shut. Training a monkey would take time. And where would he get a monkey?” This wonderful story is basic enough for young children to follow, and entertaining for adults. Durga Yael Bernhard has constructed appealing acrylic illustrations, with Moorish-influenced designs. Her muted color choices and smooth designs complement the text wonderfully, calmly propelling the story forward. The cover is designed with the title in the center, two boys (Samuel and Hamza) on either side of the title, all in the middle of an illustrated design. The back cover gives a short synopsis of the book inside of the similar design on the front, giving the book a cohesive feeling. The internal layout is pleasant and easy to follow, with a striking font that is easy to read, and perfectly accompanied by the illustrations. The book ends with an author’s note about the origins of the story, and information about the time and place of the historical events. A moral tale of friendship, Never Say a Mean Word Again: A Tale from Medieval Spain, has an admirable story guided by marvelous illustrations that will inspire children and adults.”

    – Beth VanHouten

    , from a review in ForeWord Reviews

  • “Rare is the children’s book that, by virtue of its illustrations and story, can be vaulted into the ranks of the classics, those stories such as Where the Wild Things Are that can cross across generational divides and hold up to the discerning tastes of ever-fickle toddlers. Never Say a Mean Word Again has the potential to join these greats. Inspired by a medieval legend about the Jewish poet Samuel Ha-Nagid, the highest royal adviser in Muslim-controlled Granada, Jacqueline Jules’ prose — backed by the rich illustrations of Durga Yael Bernhard — tells the story of the grand vizier’s son, Samuel, who struggles against the wiles of Hamza, the insolent son of the tax collector. His father’s sole advice? ‘Make sure Hamza never says a mean word to you again.’ While at first the boy wants to extract punishment, in time he befriends Hamza; indeed, the two boys never again fall prey to conflict. It’s a tale of peace badly needed in the troubled hours known as bedtime. But be forewarned: One of the childhood insults mentioned in the book will for sure have your kids roaring with laughter.”

    – Joshua Runyan

    , from a review in the Baltimore Jewish Times

  • “In this loose adaptation of a medieval legend, Samuel Ha-Nagid, the eleventh century Jewish poet and royal advisor in Muslim Granada, is reimagined as the grand vizier’s son. Prone to daydreaming and clumsiness, Samuel manages to offend Hamza, the son of the Muslim tax collector… Hamza, in a fit of anger, calls Samuel a ‘donkey brain’ and ‘stupid.’ Samuel’s father overhears the one-sided verbal exchange and instructs his son to ‘make sure Hamza never says a mean word to you again.’ Samuel finds this is easier said than done… [Illustrator] Bernhard’s earth-toned illustrations with stylized mosaic flowers and arch motifs enhance the story’s multicultural flavor. An author’s note provides historical background. Never Say a Mean Word Again should be required reading for all youngsters—and adults—as a means to promote civility and cooperation.”

    – Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews

    , from a review by Allison Marks, Temple Israel Library, Akron, OH

  • “Jacqueline Jules’ Never Say a Mean Word Again: A Tale from Medieval Spain tells of the wisest man in the kingdom who orders [his son] Samuel to be sure Hamza never says a mean word to [him] again. Two boys, one Jewish and one Muslim, work at settling their differences in this compelling tale of a boy given the power to punish his enemy … [This, and Paul Goble’s Horse Raid] are powerful recommendations for youngsters looking for folktales about bravery, ethics and heroism.”

    – Children’s Bookwatch

    , a review publication of Midwest Book Review

  • “Each contemplation [of Samuel as he thinks of ways to get revenge] is brilliantly displayed using acrylics that capture tones fostering the story. During each encounter between the boys, the reader sees the boys acting like playmates rather than enemies, while the vizier is ever-present in the background. In addition to these light-hearted moments, throughout the text, the muted images of buildings, arches, and period attire capture the Moorish Spain of the story. This story is inspired by a medieval legend that surrounds the life of Jewish poet Samuel Ha-Nagid. He was also a vizier or highest advisor in Muslim Granada, in Spain. A similar incident happened to the poet when Ha-Nagid was an adult. The author imagines what would happen if this had happened to [Ha-Nagid’s] son. Still maintaining the essence of the tale, Jules is able to capture a story that can be used to address the topics of friendship, bullying, and conflict resolution. The book provides additional background on Ha-Nagid and even details how during the time of the poet, “The Golden Age of Spain,” Spain and Portugal welcomed Muslims and often respected them for their customs and cultural ideas. At a time when bullying behavior is increasing and a need for discussing conflict is a necessity, this book is a welcomed addition to the classroom. Unlike some news headlines, the depiction of Muslims is positive and peaceful. The book is aimed for young audiences (ages 5 and up) but can easily be relevant in upper elementary. We all need resources that demonstrate the value of friendship and kind actions. This book richly deserves the 2014 Aesop accolade for Children’s and Young Adult Literature serving as a testament to help children value kindness over anger.”

    – 2014 Aesop Prize Committee

    , (taken from their review comments in awarding the book an Aesop Accolade)

  • “‘Sticks and stones’ gets a novel outing in this lush picture book based on a medieval legend. The original tale concerns an important Jewish adult who lived during the Golden Age of Spain. Here, author Jules translates the action to two young boys, one Jewish, Samuel, one Muslim, Hamza, to demonstrate the hurtful power of words and a peaceful way to change anger to friendship . . . With humor and age-appropriate logic, Samuel tries out different ideas on a daily basis to coax Hamza from his bullying . . . The illustrations capture the boys, their emotions, the action, and the setting’s time and place in graceful, artistic, evocative style. Colors and designs draw readers into long ago and far away while the plot and dialog salute the timeless human condition. Highly recommended as a strong Jewish addition to a library or home ‘bully issue shelf’ and recommended to ages 5 to 7 as a charming tale.”

    – Ellen G. Cole

    , from a review in Jewish Book World

  • “Never Say a Mean Word Again . . . reworks a story about the medieval poet Samuel Ha-Nagid, an adviser to the Berber court during the golden age of Moorish rule . . . Jules turns the tale into a conflict between two boys, one Muslim and one Jewish, and shows how to make a friend of an enemy . . . Never Say a Mean Word Again is an odd, lovely story infused with anger, confusion, and touches of humor. Bright colors depict fancy robes, beautiful architecture, and the swirling curlicues of Islamic art. The afterword explains the tale and gives parents a lot to discuss about modern-day conflict resolution, power imbalances, and the prospect of peace.”

    – from a review in Tablet

    , as part of Tablet’s list of “The Best Jewish Children’s Books of 2014”

  • “Writer Jacqueline Jules has taken this multicultural tale and made it into a touching parable about turning an enemy into a friend. The glorious illustrations of Durga Yael Bernhard give us a sense of medieval Spain. . . . Never Say a Mean Word Again celebrates the art of making an enemy into a friend which in today’s world of ethnic violence and hatred is a spiritual way to be encouraged.”

    – from a review on Spiritualty & Practice, an online resource

  • “This is a wonderfully told story, universal in nature, surprising in its approach, and touches on so many difficult issues in unusual and engaging ways. It very much deserves the accolades it has received and should find its way into as many little and big hands as possible.”

    – from a review on, by Craig Wiesner

  • “The combination of traditional folktale format with surprising plot twists makes this a winning book with unforced relevance in our times. . . . Durga Yael Bernhard’s lively, tradition-inspired illustrations would be easily taken in if the book were read aloud to a First-day school group of early elementary students.”

    – from a review by Dee Cameron in Friends Journal

Show More


  • Parents can download a 275KB file of a coloring page from this book. The full letter-size page features the two main characters, Samuel and Hamza running together…or is it that one is chasing the other? Children will want to use some bright basic colors for the clothing of the boys and then use their imaginations to fill in the background. Click here for this file in jpg format in a new tab or window, which you can print out for your child’s enjoyment, or right-click on the link for other options. Remember: it is best to save the file to your computer and then print it out, rather than printing it out from the web page display itself.
  • The Author’s Comments on the Story

    Author Jacqueline Jules wrote the comments below on how the story developed in her mind and its relation to medieval Spain:

    “This story was inspired by a medieval legend about the Jewish poet Samuel Ha-Nagid, who was the vizier (highest royal advisor) in Muslim Granada, a city in Spain. According to the legend, the caliph (or king) ordered that a man be severely punished for cursing the vizier. Later, when the caliph saw Samuel joking with the man, Samuel explained by saying, “I have torn out his angry tongue and given him a kind one instead.” This powerful example of making a friend of one’s enemy appears in several sources. I saw it first in Pentateuch & Haftorahs edited by Dr. J. H. Hertz. A version in the says that Samuel made friends with his enemy by giving him a gift.”

  • The Illustrator’s Comments on the paintings

    Illustrator D. Yael Bernhard writes a blog and sometimes includes some thoughts about her recent work. Currently, she is featuring a piece about her work on Never Say a Mean Word Again. She speaks about some of the process that she used in deciding the content of the illustrations, including a view of three stages of development (i.e. from thumbnail sketch to detailed sketch to painting) for the image of the imaginary monkey holding Hamza’s lips shut. Click here to see the page and to gather some insight on how a talented artist thinks and works.

  • Leading Links

    The author of Never Say a Mean Word Again, Jacqueline Jules, wrote a poem titled “You and I,” from which a lovely song was composed. The poem and song don’t use the story of Never Say a Mean Word Again, but the theme is the same: children, and adults, can find ways to overcome conflicts with others, which begins by recognizing and embracing differences. “You and I” expresses in a more direct fashion the theme of the book, and would work well as part of a supplementary activity following a reading of the book in a classroom, a congregation, or at home.

    Jacqueline’s website has a page that features a wonderful recording of the song by a chorus of children from Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, VA. The text of the poem is also on the page.

    To go to the page on Jacqueline Jules’s website on which you can
    listen to this beautiful rendition of the song “You and I,” click here.

Sample Page Spreads from This Book

Click on the image below to see a larger image and a caption for this and any additional page spreads.

The Book Trailer Video for Never Say a Mean Word Agai

Watch the video below to get a visual summary of the pages in the book.