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.

Fair Shares

Fair Shares
Pippa Goodhart and Anna Doherty
Tiny Owl

Both Hare and Bear have designs on the juicy-looking pears they see high up in the tree but neither can reach them.

Hare suggests climbing on chairs but there are only three …

“That’s not fair!’ exclaims Bear so one is discarded. Now Bear can reach the yummy pears – SCRUNCH MUNCH – but Hare isn’t happy.

Suddenly a tiny voice pipes up. Beetle puts forward the notion that giving everybody the same thing isn’t always fair and with a visual aid, goes on to explain.

Everyone appears happy but only briefly;

wait for the surprise ending …

Pippa Goodhart’s funny, seemingly simple story will set youngsters’ brains a- buzzing as they contemplate the vexed question of fair shares and fairness.

Before that though, they’ll relish the entire telling wonderfully visualised in Anna Doherty’s lively, splendidly expressive illustrations of the animal participants in this thought-provoking book. Look out for all the minibeasts watching the action and sometimes enjoying the spoils thereof.

Quill Soup

Quill Soup
Alan Durant and Dale Blankenaar
Tiny Owl

This droll tale, the third in Tiny owl’s ‘One Story, Many Voices’ enterprise is a wonderful retelling of an African variant of folk tale classic Stone Soup.

Here the protagonist, Noko is a tired, very hungry porcupine that dupes a whole village of selfish, well-sated animals into contributing to a wonderful meal even though they’ve asserted one by one that they have absolutely nothing to spare for the stranger.

Noko’s initial request in the seemingly empty village he arrives at is to the resident of the first house. But his “Do you have anything I can eat?” request is met with Warthog’s response, “I’m sorry, I ate a big lunch and all my food is gone.” Really?

Further excuses come from Rabbit, Monkey, Aardvark,

Meerkat and Pangolin, and all the while Noko is convinced the animals are lying.

Though his body may be tired, the porcupine’s brain most certainly isn’t – it’s as sharp as his own quills and he comes up with a plan to get some of that food stashed away in the villagers’ homes.

The animals feel obliged to his requested large pot of water and some fire, and learn that the visitor is to make his own quill soup using three quills from his own back – a flavourful soup fit for a king.

Mightily impressed that Noko has met the king, one by one the villagers provide the ingredients he mentions as he samples the contents of the pot until eventually the porcupine declares the soup “Perfect’ and then it’s time for a shared feast under the stars.

And by the time Noko requests a hole to bed down in, the other animals have realised that he deserves a much comfier place than that to sleep – after the communal singing, dancing and storytelling, that is.

Dale Blankenaar’s kaleidoscopic illustrations have a zestiness about them that is just right for Alan Durant’s version of the story. Their combination serves up the full-flavoured message that we  should all offer a welcome to strangers in need, sharing our resources to help them, wherever, whenever we can.

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!

 

Dare

Dare
Lorna Gutierrez and Polly Noakes
Tiny Owl

Here’s a little book that cries out to be shared with little ones wherever they are. It’s a powerful exhortation to be the very best person you can possibly be.

We see examples of young children who dare to dream big and aspire, to trust and inspire, to do what’s not been done before;

there’s a girl who won’t settle for second place and an acute observer who notices things others miss. Then comes finding the courage to speak out against wrongs;

daring to risk reaching out to others; to sing and dance, to offer a helping hand and to be a trailblazer are equally desirable when it comes to self fulfilment. Above all though be true to yourself …

… a bright star illuminating the dark.

What better message can you give to a young child?

This beautifully illustrated, diverse, empowering book would make a smashing present for a new parent or for a pre-schooler’ s naming ceremony or birthday, as well as being great to read in any early years setting. Foundation stage teachers might easily devote an entire circle time to discussing any one of the statements; the potential is terrific.

Listen! – The Flute / World of Forests

The Flute
Ken Wilson-Max and Catell Ronca
Tiny Owl

The second in the Children Music Life series showcases a reedless woodwind instrument, the flute. Here flautists from different parts of the world come together to celebrate its magic. It’s a colourful magic that conjures up mellow sounds …

and bright ones; that sometimes speaks very softly …

or blows icily.
It might be a scream of pink, a sigh of lilac that is …

The voice through which the flutes speak is pure poetry; now why not try to discover its sounds for yourself … Where will it take you? What will you hear and see: how will you feel?

With rainbow bright illustrations from Catell Ronca and Ken Wilson-Max’s poetic words, prepare to be transported and perhaps to dance with your little one like some of the characters herein. Through music is a wonderful way to introduce very young children to stories: this little treasure of a book will help you do just that.

World of Forests
Robert Hunter
Wide Eyed Editions

Robert Hunter follows his World of Birds with a new Sounds of Nature title in which he explores ten different forest habitats from various parts of the world – Europe (including the UK), the USA, South America, Africa, India, Socotra Island (Yemen) and China.
Each habitat is given a double spread wherein are showcased the animal inhabitants (with a factual paragraph on each one) as well as a general introduction to the particular forest be it of the coniferous or deciduous kind.
Six or seven creatures are included in each location be that the German evergreen forest; the Redwood forest of California; England’s New Forest; the Amazon rainforest; a cloud forest in the Virunga Mountains of East Africa;

a desert forest of Socotra Island; a beech forest of Brussels;

the Sundarbans mangrove forest in the Bay of Bengal (I don’t think this is at ‘the southern tip of India’ as stated in the book though); the coniferous taiga (snow) forest of Alaska; or the bamboo forest in the mountains dividing North and South China.

Pressing the sound button on each spread produces a ten second burst of the natural sounds of 60 or more animals. You’ll need to listen very carefully to identify such creatures as the squawking macaws of the rainforest or the call of the Northern wren in the beech forest.

The whole thing is splendidly atmospheric: with its beautiful panoramic illustrations and fascinating soundscapes it’s a book that is likely to appeal across a wide age range.