The Perfect Gift

The Perfect Gift
Alan Durant and Marjan Vafaeian
Tiny Owl

Rabbit is a much-loved creature, always ready to help and share with friends and neighbours. One day Meerkat knocks on her door with news: the birth of a royal baby is announced and the queen is having a celebratory party in the palace. Meerkat urges Rabbit to come along but in her paws she’s holding a gift. Rabbit doesn’t have a gift and she turns down her friend’s offer to share. Back indoors she searches high and low but can find nothing she deems suitable for the new baby.

Then ostrich calls and she too make the same offer as Meerkat, but is also turned down and told to go ahead. Other creatures also stop by, each bearing a gift.

By now the sun has almost gone for the day but still Rabbit won’t join them. As the sun sets she decides the only answer is to go to the party sans gift and ask the Queen’s forgiveness.

With her lamp in her paws, she makes her way to the palace and is surprised on arrival to find the place in darkness. Holding up her lamp, Rabbit approaches her majesty. Imagine Rabbit’s surprise when she’s greeted with the words, “And you’ve brought the perfect gift.” What can she mean by those words?

With themes of selflessness, kindness and friendship Alan Durant’s tale accompanied by Marjan Vafaeian’s delightfully quirky, detailed illustrations (love Ostrich’s knobbly knees) leave you with a wonderfully warm feeling inside. A thought provoking book to share both at home and in the classroom.

Cinderella of the Nile

Cinderella of the Nile
Beverley Naidoo and Marjan Vafaeian
Tiny Owl

Cinderella is one of the most often told and recognised stories all around the world with its themes and motifs appearing in the folklore of many cultures.
Rhodopsis is an ancient Greek/Egyptian tale said to be the earliest Cinderella story.

Now, Carnegie award-winning author Beverley Naidoo retells this little known tale, the first in the publisher’s ‘One Story, Many Voices’ series. I was particularly excited to see this book having become interested in how stories cross cultures and wrote an assignment on this theme in relation to the Cinderella story while studying at London University’s Institute of Education many years ago.

In this version, unlike the Cinderella most young children are familiar with, a young Greek girl, Rhodopisis is captured by pirates and sold into slavery.
Her master has a special slave, the storyteller, Aesop who becomes friendly with the beautiful red-haired girl and the only one able to make her smile.

After a while her master, unhappy at her unwillingness to smile for him, sells her to a merchant travelling to the Egyptian port of Naukratis.

There she is bought by a Greek merchant who, having heard her story, treats her kindly, rather like a daughter, angering his Egyptian servants, in particular, three sisters who do unkind things to the girl behind their master’s back.
One day her master sees her dancing barefoot down by the river and so he gives her a pair of beautiful rose-red slippers.

Not long after, the Pharaoh sends out an invitation to his subjects asking them to a feast at his palace. Hearing that he was looking for a bride, the three sisters lie to their master and set off to attend.

The kind-hearted Rhodopsis is left to do all the chores and while she does so, Horus, the falcon-god seizes one of her slippers and flies off with it, dropping it into the hand of the Pharaoh Amasis.

Taking it as a sign from the god, the Pharaoh orders messengers to seek out the slipper’s owner: it is she who will become his Queen …

The ancient origins of the story is evident through Marjan Vafaeian’s use of the side on figurative imagery found in the Greek art of the period as well as in Ancient Egyptian wall paintings. Her stylised patterned landscapes in opulent shades of red, brown and green are stunning and a perfect complement to Beverley Naidoo’s fine telling.