Under the Great Plum Tree

Under the Great Plum Tree
Sufiya Ahmed and Reza Dalvand
Tiny Owl

This is a new addition to Tiny Owl’s smashing One Story, Many Voices series.

I felt very pleased with myself for realising as I started reading that the names of the two main characters in Sufiya Ahmed’s version of an Indian fable from the Panchatrantra are the Hindi for monkey and crocodile, only to find on finishing the book a note at the back saying just that. Still it didn’t say that hati is Hindi for elephant!

Now let me introduce the two characters who have formed a rather unlikely friendship under a plum tree in their jungle home. There’s the always kind-hearted Miss Bandari and well past his hunting days crocodile, Mr Magarmach.

The latter regales Miss Bandari with his tales of days gone by but one day instead of his regular story, he invites his friend to lunch as repayment for all her kindness.

That’s an offer too good to turn down so Miss Bandari leaps onto Mr Magarmach’s back and off they go down the river.

After a while they encounter Dame Hati who warns of a terrible danger that awaits should they proceed: the always hungry King Crocodile no less.

Now this troubles Miss Bandari but Mr Magarmuch assures her that King Crocodile wants only to see her big golden heart.

Luckily Dame Hati has her wits about her

and assists Miss Bandari in avoiding a terrible fate.

But the result is that the long-standing friendship between Miss Bandari and Mr Magarmach is tested close to its limits.

Fortunately though the latter’s courage prevails when King Crocodile’s true intentions are revealed and all ends happily.

Sufiya Ahmed’s lively rendition is a great read aloud, while reminiscent of Gujarati Pithora art, Reza Dalvand’s stylised, multi-patterned illustrations flow freely over the pages seducing the eye, making the entire reading experience an absolute delight for audiences and those sharing the book.

The Secret of the Tattered Shoes

The Secret of the Tattered Shoes
Jackie Morris and Ehsan Abdollahi
Tiny Owl

The latest addition to Tiny Owl’s ‘One Story, Many Voices’ is a rather different interpretation of the Brothers Grimm tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses.
Here the princesses are still locked up each night, and their dancing shoes are still worn down each morning.

However, having met a beautiful woman in the forest

and learned of the princesses, the strong handsome soldier who takes it upon himself to accept the king’s challenge to discover their secret, is weary of life.

Unlike those who have gone before he has a different ending in mind from that offered by the princesses’ father.

Jackie Morris’s text is poetic: ‘The soldier followed, out from the twisting tunnel of steps to an avenue of trees lit by curious starlight. The leaves shone with silver as if painted by moonlight’.
It’s also rather dark: it’s certainly not marriage to one of the king’s daughters – the happily ever after ending of the Grimm version that this soldier seeks. Nevertheless although readers are left to decide for themselves what happens to him, we’re left with a hope that the soldier finds that which he goes in search of after leaving the royal gathering.

Ehsan Abdollahi’s collage illustrations are absolutely right for Jackie Morris’s rendition: from endpaper to endpaper, with puppet-like figures, they’re exquisitely detailed, infused with melancholy and mystery, and reminded me rather of medieval tapestries.

The Phoenix of Persia

The Phoenix of Persia
Sally Pomme Clayton and Amin Hassanzadeh Sharif
Tiny Owl

What better way to welcome the month of May than with this wonderful new book and music project from Tiny Owl, The Phoenix of Persia. The tale, told by acclaimed storyteller Sally Pomme Clayton is the second in the publisher’s One Story, Many Voices series.

It’s based on a story from Iran’s most important epic, and one of the world’s greatest, Shahnameh, by 10th century Iranian poet, Ferdowsi and tells of an ancient Persian king.

The setting for the telling is Daneshjoo park where children, including Ali and his sister Shirin, are gathered awaiting the magical ‘Once upon a time …’

We hear of the birth of the multi-hued Simorgh, a firebird with a secret: her feathers have the magical power of granting wishes and making dreams become reality, a bird that is reborn every thousand years from the ashes of her nest. This magnificent creature is the titular Phoenix of Persia.

At that time the land is under the rule of King Sam and Queen Aram who are overjoyed at the birth of a long-awaited child, a son and prince whom they name Zal.

The ruler’s joy is short-lived though for when he uncovers the child’s head he sees, not the locks of a baby but the white hair of an old man. Immediately rejecting what he considers an imperfect infant, the king summons a soldier and orders him to take him to the mountains and leave him. Reluctantly the soldier does as he’s bid, placing Prince Zal on a wind-swept rock.

The sobs of a hungry, distraught babe reverberate over the mountains and are heard by the Simorgh out hunting for food for her chicks. Resolving to care for the tiny human, the creature picks him up, carries him to her nest and tucks him in among feathers.
Years of lessons in languages, the arts,

sciences and princely skills follow and sixteen years later Zal is a wise teenager. His parents meanwhile are suffering – his mother from nightmares, his father from regrets. So terrible does he feel that King Sam calls the soldier and the two men ride off into the mountains, and come upon …

“Can you forgive me?” called King Sam.

Forgiveness follows and a paternal plea to return home initially refused, is accepted thanks to Simorgh’s words of wisdom to Zal that bring about a change of heart.

Then father and son (with some special feathers from the phoenix’s tail) travel home to be welcomed by an overjoyed mother. He adds a fiery phoenix feather for protection to his new crown

and there the storyteller in the arena stops, leaving one of the audience wondering about whether it was ever burned.

With acceptance at its heart, Sally Pomme Clayton’s telling really does feel like a drama unfolding before you, all the more so accompanied by Amin Hassanzadeh Sharif’s wonderful, richly textured, jewel-hued scenes. That’s not all though: there’s a QR code at the beginning of the book you can use to listen to a beautiful musical accompaniment on Iranian instruments to Sally’s narration.

Rich in classroom potential, this book is FAB-U-LOUS!

 

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.