Seven Daughters and Seven Sons

Written by: Barbara Cohen

Illustrated by: Bahija Lovejoy

For parents of independent readers, we provide a set of questions that should give you insight into what your child is reading and help you engage him/her in meaningful conversations about literature. We recommend using the questions provided here as a springboard for deeper conversation about Seven Daughters and Seven Sons and what your child takes away from the book. Enjoy!


Seven Daughters and Seven Sons tells the story of a young Iraqi girl named Buran. In this classic folktale, Buran is one of seven daughters who is meant to grow up to become a good wife, learning how to cook, sew and clean. Buran is not interested in such a fate, and spends much of her time with her father, reading and playing chess. Her family is quite poor, and while her father (who goes by the surname Abul-Banat, or "Father of Girls") works hard to support their family, it isn't enough. Buran decides that she must leave home and earn money to support their family, so when her father becomes ill, she travels to Tyre disguised as a boy and begins working for an unpleasant merchant. She then starts her own business in Tyre, and before long, she meets the governor's son and falls in love with him. She cannot reveal her true identity for fear of losing her business, and has to make a very difficult decision. A beautiful folktale, Buran's story highlights the importance of humility,  hard work, and love.

Pre-Reading Activity

KWL Chart

Create a K-W-L Chart and have your child fill in the first two columns with information that s/he knows and wants to find out about the story. S/he can fill in the last column, "What I Learned", once s/he has finished the story.

What I Know

After reading the summary of the story, let your child think about what s/he already knows about the story. Consider questions like "Where is the story set? What is the general premise of the story? What do you know about Iraq and the religion of Islam? What other folktales have you read/ heard?"

What I Want to Know

Include questions that your child might have about the plot, characters and setting. Think about including questions like, "What business does Buran start? How will she adapt to life as a boy in a new place far from home? What other stories do you know about girls dressing up as boys to do something that girls can't?"


Maintain a Vocabulary Journal

Encourage your child to stop when s/he gets to an unfamiliar word. See if s/he can discover its meaning by using context clues like prefixes and suffixes as well as the words surrounding it. There are several Arabic words sprinkled throughout the story, so be sure that your child accounts for these as well. Help him/her by keeping a “Vocabulary Journal” nearby when reading so that your child can write down new words, that s/he has either already defined or wishes to look up in the dictionary. You may also want to use this to write down the places that Buran lives and visits, as well as her general experiences there. This will help you with the "Extending the Story" portion of this guide. 

Discussion Questions

  1. In the beginning of the story, Buran says "What we imagine to be a blessing can actually be a curse, and what we suppose to be a curse may blossom into a blessing" (pg. 3). What does she mean by that? How does her father's supposed "curse" become a blessing? Have you found this to be the case in your life? Can you think of a specific example?
  2. How is Buran different from her sisters? How are women expected to behave in this culture? Why is it considered a bad thing that Buran's father only has daughters?
  3. What makes Buran's father change his mind about allowing her to leave home and make money for the family?
  4. What is Buran and Muhmud's relationship like? How did they meet? Why was their relationship so complicated?
  5. Describe Buran's cousins. How does she feel about them in the beginning of the story? What about at the end? 
  6. Why does Buran leave Tyre? If you had been in her position, would you have stayed in Tyre or gone back home to your family? Why is that?

Extending the Story

Use this map to track where Buran traveled throughout the story. What did she see in these different places? What did she do? Your child will gain more of an appreciation for Buran's determination and bravery as she trekked far from home to give her family a better life.