Green Bean Books

The Donkey and the Garden

The Donkey and the Garden

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Written by Devora Busheri
Illustrated by Menahem Halberstadt

Price: £10.99 / $19.95
Pages: 32
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781784386375


  • A delightful story adapted from a midrash, about how Rabbi Akiva learned to read and write at the age of forty.
  • Delivers the message that no one is ever too old to learn new things or make changes in their life, nor should anyone let fear stop them from doing so.
  • Beautiful, lively illustrations enhance the storytelling throughout


When Akiva and his wife Rachel walk past a school one morning, Akiva looks in sadly.

Unlike the children, he has never learned to read or write.

‘Wouldn’t you like to go inside and learn with them?’ Rachel asks. But Akiva fears the children will laugh at him.

Rachel has an idea. She buys a donkey, plants a garden on its back and insists that she and Akiva take it with them to market. When they arrive, people laugh and point at such an unusual sight. The following morning, when Akiva refuses to join the children at school, Rachel suggests they go back to the market. Once again, the donkey attracts attention and laughter. On the third morning, Akiva refuses school again and returns to the market with Rachel and the donkey. But this time, nobody laughs or points. Instead, people come to take a closer look at the donkey, pick flowers from its back and pluck grapes from its vine.

Finally, Akiva realises what Rachel has been trying to tell him.

Akiva enrols in the school. He soon gets over his nerves and the children get used to his presence. He studies so hard that eventually he becomes a great scholar – the famous Rabbi Akiva who is still revered today.

This is a beautifully told story, based on Midrash Hagadol, about how Rabbi Akiva overcame his fear of humiliation to go from humble shepherd to legendary Jewish leader, with a little help from a his clever wife and a donkey with a garden on its back

Author Details

Devora Busheri is a writer, editor, and translator. She is the author of a number of books for children including The Abba Tree, My Sister is Sleeping and In the Jerusalem Forest.

Devora lives in Jerusalem with her husband and their four children.

Read her interview >

Illustrator Details

Menachem Halberstadt studied painting and drawing under the instruction of the famous Israeli artists Leonid Balaklav and Aram Gershuni. Following this, he studied animation at the Bezalel Academy and graphic design at Hadassah Academic College, Jerusalem.


‘Busheri uses the rule of three expertly, first as Rachel makes her point with the garden donkey, and then to show Akiva’s first days of school. Halberstadt’s simple line drawings are delightful, using color to highlight the center of the story. Busheri uses Akiva’s story to show children, and adults, that one is never too old to learn something new. The Donkey and the Garden has literary merit. It is well written, positive and authentic, and is appropriate for young readers. The story is solidly rooted and researched. The Midrash HaGadol relating the story is included as an Afterword. Illustrations reflect varying skin tones, clothing, and appropriate for second century Judea.’ – Meg Wiviott,

Busheri’s patient and infor­ma­tive text and Halberstadt’s play­ful­ly expres­sive draw­ings con­vey the future rabbi’s courage and humil­i­ty, as well as the lov­ing sup­port of his devot­ed wife, Rachel. The book works on sev­er­al lev­els: as an intro­duc­tion to the life of Rab­bi Aki­va, as a mes­sage about the val­ue of per­sis­tence in the face of obsta­cles, and as an homage to the strong woman whose faith in her hus­band enabled his suc­cess… The love­ly sub­tle­ty of Halberstadt’s style shines from every page. A range of col­ors from pas­tel to deep earth tones com­ple­ments the line draw­ings… In their con­clu­sion, the author and illus­tra­tor deliv­er a pow­er­ful mes­sage about life­long learn­ing as a diverse group of peo­ple proud­ly announce the skills they have acquired at dif­fer­ent ages. It would be dif­fi­cult to think of a more rel­e­vant or impor­tant mes­sage for everyone… This high­ly rec­om­mend­ed book includes a sum­ma­ry from the Midrash Hagadol about the sto­ry which inspired the book.’ – Emily Schneider, Jewish Book Council

‘It’s a multi-layered parable… it gives young readers a glimpse of a historical figure, shows them the power of reading, writing, and studying, and encourages them not to shy away from learning new things—no matter how silly they feel doing so. It emphasizes the importance of persistence  and determination. It even illustrates just how wrong the adage, “You can’t teach an old dog a new trick,” really is.  The youngest book-lovers who can’t yet read will feel a kinship to the illiterate adult Akiva, readers who are struggling but making progress will connect to Akiva’s own struggles, and accomplished young readers will feel a bit of empathy for those who aren’t there yet.

Children learn all sorts of things as they grow up and being ignorant can be scary and embarrassing. This sweet story makes it clear that those feelings fade quickly, and that with the acquisition of a new skill, much can happen. Who knows? They might even go on to make history!’ – Nanette McGuinness, Global Literature in Libraries