Eleven-year-old Gladys Cailiff is completely smitten with her new teacher. Miss Spivey, who has arrived in Threestep, Georgia, during the height of the Depression, makes quite an impression with her unconventional ways. She smokes cigarettes, wears hiking boots under her skirts, and knows how to drive a truck. But what really animates her is reading aloud to her class from the classic Thousand and One Nights. Then she gets the idea of turning the annual festival into a full-scale Baghdad bazaar, complete with Scheherazade (Gladys’ pregnant sister, May) and Aladdin (Gladys’ handsome brother, Force), a camel, and sets custom-built by the Cailiffs’ ingenious young African American neighbor, Theo Boykin. Indeed, some of Miss Spivey’s more radical notions touch on desegregation, which lands her in big trouble with the school superintendent. Stefaniak (The Turk and My Mother, 2004) steals a page from Scheherazade herself, capturing the ordinary lives of the loving Cailiff family while also taking readers on multiple flights of fancy as she tells the complicated backstory of the camel driver. A novel fairly brimming with inventive storytelling and comic brio. --Joanne Wilkinson.