Hortense and the Shadow

Hortense and the Shadow
Natalia and Lauren O’Hara
Puffin Books

Combining elements of dark and light, the O’Hara sisters’ debut picture book has a haunting, fairytale quality that will have a wide appeal.
A little girl Hortense, who lives in an ornate mansion deep in the woods, is a kind, brave, caring child. However there’s one thing she hates: her own shadow. It follows her no matter where she goes or what she does; and when night falls, it grows ‘tall and dark and crooked.’
She tries hiding her shadow … to no avail:

she and her shadow remain locked in mutual hatred.
Then one evening Hortense manages to escape from its clutches: she feels liberated, happy and safe; although just occasionally it feels like she’s being watched.

One black night some bandits arrive and it seems all is lost; but then Hortense’s shadow appears and saves her.

That’s when the girl realises that, rather than being something to hate, her shadow is a part of what she is, ‘sometimes dark, cross, strange, silly, jagged or blue,‘ – the perfect ending for this highly original, allegorical fairytale.
Natalia O’Hara’s lyrical prose and Lauren’s delicate, muted illustrations, sometimes ornate, sometimes stark and looming, together make for a multi-layered story to have you tingling with delight. Absolutely beautiful.

Tahmineh’s Beautiful Bird

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Tahmineh’s Beautiful Bird
Parviz Kalantari
Tiny Owl Publishing
We first meet young Tahmineh as she sits playing her flute and minding the family flocks high up on the grassy pastures. Suddenly she notices a beautiful bird singing the most beautiful song she has ever heard. A song that causes her to daydream in school the following day and to distract her as she tries to read her favourite storybook.

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Wanting to capture the beautiful bird so she can enjoy its song whenever she wishes, Tahmineh tells her father of her desire.
A bird would be unhappy to be trapped, and an unhappy bird won’t sing.” is his wise response. Equally wise, her mother says, “Even if you can’t catch the bird, you can catch the memory of it.” thus sparking an idea in Tahmineh’s mind.

 

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Inspired by her mother’s words, she weaves an image of the beautiful bird into a “chanteh”. – her finest ever. (A chanteh is a small bag, one of the artefacts woven by female members of the Qashqai tribe of which Tahmineh and her family are members.)
As summer draws to an end, and the tribe makes ready to descend to lower pastures, Tahmineh’s father gives her a letter asking her to go to the carpet fair in the big city.
It’s there that she wins first prize with her bag that is truly magical, for the bird still sings that glorious song.

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This allegorical tale can be interpreted in several ways: as a straightforward story of a young girl using her imagination and skill to get what she wants, as an illustration of mankind’s desire to capture something and use it for pleasure-giving purposes of his/her own and, peel off another layer to reveal an anti assimilation parable on behalf of the Qashqai people many of whom have had to give up their traditional free lifestyle and resettle in towns and cities.
Beautifully illustrated in striking colours, the scenes depict a culture virtually unknown to most Western readers and listeners. A fascinating and enriching book for primary audiences (and adults interested in ‘artistic anthropology’).

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