Last: The story of a White Rhino

Last: The story of a White Rhino
Nicola Davies
Tiny Owl

This story of Nicola Davies’ is a fine example of how a relatively few, carefully chosen words can have a very powerful impact.

Nicola’s tale, narrated by a rhino was inspired by Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino from Africa that died in 2018. From his captive state in a zoo situated in a grey city, the rhino talks of looking for another animal like himself before remembering his earlier life that was full of colour. A place where other rhinos roamed free and he stayed close to his mother by day and night

until the fateful day when a hunter came and shot her dead. The young rhino was captured, put in ‘a box’ and transported to a dreary place without flora and where ‘Even the rain smelled empty’.

There he speaks of being among many other ‘lasts’ that spend their days cooped up pondering upon their plight

and the state of the world where this is allowed to happen.

Then one day something wonderful happens; something that seems almost too good to be true for the rhino is taken back to his life in the wild and joy of joys, he’s no longer alone.

This is the first book Nicola has illustrated herself and her illustrations too are enormously potent, particularly the stark contrast between the captive grey environment and the colour-filled homeland and the finale.

There’s a page about the illustrations at the front of the book, which I won’t re-iterate in full but just mention the inspirational quote from environmentalist, Paul Hawken and endorse Nicola’s own “I believe that the world can change for the better, but it will change one heart at a time. Change your heart, change the world.’

I truly hope that this story will move others as it did this reviewer, to be part of that change.

Chalk Eagle

Chalk Eagle
Nazli Tahvili
Tiny Owl

The power of the imagination is crucial for so many reasons. I’ve spoken and written about its importance in education in many places and on numerous occasions, including from time to time, on this blog. Sadly however, the education policy writers in our government seem not to place much value upon it.

However, one never gives up on something so vital and it is wonderful to have Tiny Owl’s on-going championing of wordless books as one means of promoting the education of the imagination. Equally it was exciting to hear on a recent The Life Scientific programme, a woman mathematician, Eugenia Cheng, speaking about the importance of the imagination in maths.

This wordless picture book by Iranian artist Nazli Tahvili is the perfect vehicle to get the imagination soaring and for me the eagle in flight is a wonderful symbol of creativity unleashed.
A rooftop vantage point is just the place to broaden one’s horizons and make free with chalk on tiles, which is what the young protagonist does herein having watched an eagle flying overhead.

Boy and eagle join forces

and soar over town and country, sea and mountain in his imagination and in Nazli Tahvili’s screen-print illustrations.

The colours she has used are, so we’re told, influenced by the blue skies, and green rice fields that surround her northern Iranian home.

A book to open up and let your mind go free with child and eagle: in particular, I’d like to give it to a group of teachers or teachers in training and see where their discussions/imaginations fly.

The Orange House

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The Orange House
Nahid Kazemi
Tiny Owl Publishing
Down at the end of the alley lined by tall buildings Sky, Star, Sea and Moonlight, stands the Orange House and Orange is far from happy. The reason being she is the only remaining old house, and while the other buildings all watch and comment on the nearby, as yet nameless new building,

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single storeyed Orange House stays silent. She doesn’t have a lift, nor amazing plumbing or even beautiful bricks or windows as the others have commented. Puzzled by her continued silence,

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Turquoise, the first of the more recent buildings, continues speaking, recalling when like Orange, other houses in the alley had gardens with trees, ponds, birds and fish. The rest join the conversation, reminiscing about the lost beauty and gradually realising the impact they themselves have had on the locality, Turquoise commenting on the quality of the air (cleaner and easier to breathe back then).
Suddenly Orange notices workmen approaching with picks and shovels; but then so do the others. Deciding it’s time to make a stand against further development, the tall buildings form a barricade around the Orange House making her invisible to those would-be destructive humans who give up their search and walk away.

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And thus stands Orange House, smiling and happy surrounded by her new friends and protectors.
This is a powerful fable of our time, when thoughtless, money-grabbing developers are often too ready to knock down buildings and destroy open spaces in the name of progress.
With its naive perspectives, Nahid Kazemi’s quirky, offbeat illustrative style delivers the message with a punchy panache.

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The Jackal Who Thought He Was a Peacock

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The Jackal Who Thought He Was a Peacock
Firoozeh Golmohammadi
Tiny Owl Publishing
Coming to terms with and accepting one’s own identity is at the heart of this striking reworking of a Rumi fable.
Dissatisfied with his dull grey and brown fur, a jackal longs to stand out from the crowd like a colourful peacock and to this end, adorns himself with bright objects he comes across, and spends much of his time observing those stunning birds, further strengthening his desire to become one.
One night the jackal has a dream wherein his wish has finally come true: he has become a beautiful peacock waited on hand and foot by the other creatures, so dazzled are they by his beauty.

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Until that is, the loudness of his bossy orders wakes him from his slumbers bringing him firmly back to his grey-brown reality.
However, the desire remains stronger than ever, and thus it is that the jackal pays a visit to the dyer’s house where, dazzling in the moonlight stand vats of wonderful coloured paint into which of course, one by one, the jackal leaps.
The result is spectacular, the dyer furious and the jackal? He’s cock-a-hoop.

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But we know – and jackal is soon to discover – pride comes before a fall; and fall he does, pretty hard. So, has that would-be peacock finally come to terms with his ‘jackalness’? Well, yes … and no.
Firoozeh Golmohammadi’s portraits of the animal characters and the landscape and townscape settings are executed in a painterly style which is at once absorbing and arresting .
As with all Tiny Owl publications, the book’s design and the quality of the production are superb.

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Winter/A Bird Like Himself

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Winter
David A. Carter
Abrams & Chronicle
This small pop-up is full of wintry delights. As the sun goes down and snow begins to fall one chilly day, we see a white-tailed deer and follow deer tracks across the white covering and there’s a cardinal perching in a pine tree. Turn the page and make the snowflakes dance in the air, the snow geese too, take to the air while from behind a fir tree peeps a bear…

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yes there’s something to see at every level on each spread thereafter.
Turn over once again: holly berries deck the tree, a stoat stands stark with its tail aloft, a snowshoe hare hops by and mice are snuggling together to keep warm.
Next we see long-eared owls perching on an oak, long-tailed weasels as they are herein named, face us looking startled and red foxes are huddling from the cold (look behind the sandstone).

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Look on the next moonlit spread and find Orion above, a bobcat, snowberries glowing and creatures peeking and finally …

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Everything is still, everything is waiting under the milky way …

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One year old Jenson investigating the delights of WINTER

Some of the creatures are American but this adds interest for non-US readers rather than detracting from the charm of the book.

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A Bird Like Himself
Anahita Teymorian
Tiny Owl Publishing
When a chick emerges from a seemingly parentless egg, the animals living around take on the role of carers.

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They do their very best and if nothing else they give their new infant plenty of love.

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With such a variety of carers though, it’s not surprising that Baby – so called because he became everyone’s baby – has something of an identity crisis.
But with the winter fast approaching, it’s time for birds like Baby to be flying south to warmer climes and try as they might, none of the animals is able to demonstrate the techniques of flying …

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So what will be the fate of Baby who as yet isn’t really like those other birds? Can he finally spread those wings of his and take flight? Perhaps, with the help of a special friend …

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With its inherent themes of acceptance, parenting and caring, friendship and finding a place to fit in, this lovely book will resonate with adults as well as the many children I hope it will be shared with especially  with refugees from Syria being made to feel welcome in the UK as I write.
Author/illustrator Anahita Teymorian’s densely daubed illustrations are sheer delight. I absolutely love the final double spread whereon is revealed the significance of the chequer board design that appears on every spread – brilliant!

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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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