retold by Ali Seidabadi, illustrated by Marjan Vafaian, translated by Azita Rassi
(Tiny Owl Publishing, 2016)
Bijan & Manije is one of the stories from Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), the collection of Persian myths and legends collected and retold by 10th-century poet Ferdowsi. Ali Seidabadi’s retelling here gives every twist and turn of the story at break-neck speed, without a word out of place: this is definitely an epic tale that keeps readers on their toes!
In essence, the story tells of how Persian youth Bijan takes on a quest to rid the neighbouring Armenians of a herd of marauding wild boar ‘with tusks like granite’. Unfortunately the general sent along to protect Bijan is not as brave, and runs away. To cover his cowardice, he persuades Bijan to go take a look at the beautiful gardens nearby: but the gardens belong to the tyrant King Afrasahib of Turan, an enemy of Persia. Things become more complicated because Bijan and King Afrasahib’s daughter Manije fall in love – and she certainly isn’t going to let the enmity between their two countries get in the way of their future happiness. They just need some help from various quarters along the way…
The illustrations are wonderful – so clearly rooted in their Persian culture but with a fantastic, contemporary feel. Indeed, Marjan Vafaian’s figures are unmistakable. The colours, patterns and extraordinary perspectival relationships between the different elements within each illustration all add to the reading experience. Children will find them intriguing – and the spacious, white background to each double-page spread offers all the more breathing space to engage with them.
Azita Rassi’s translation begins with ‘Once upon a time’ and ends with ‘happily ever after’, offering clear signposts to children of the fairy-tale quality of the story. There’s everything here – love, bravery and adventure; fear and hardship; and, of course, a satisfying, happy ending. What I especially like about it is the concise way the many events of the story unfold – and that even so we emerge with a strong sense of characterisation. The good are not completely good; and the bad are not completely bad – so slightly older children will be left with some interesting questions to ponder.
Read a review of author Ali Seidabadi’s beautiful picture book poem A Rainbow in My Pocket
Read author Mitali Perkins’ ‘Children’s books in Iran: A Chat with Ali Seidabadi‘ (2013)
Read MWD’s interview with Delaram Ghanimifard, co-founder of Tiny Owl Publishing (including illustrations from Marjan Vafaian’s picture book The Parrot and the Merchant)
Read more news and reviews of Bijan and Manije
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Our best-selling title The Little Black Fish, illustrated by Hans Christian Andersen Award winner Farshid Mesghali, will be out in paperback at the end of this month! Selected by the Guardian as one of the best books of the year in 2015, it’s a beautiful book about freedom, self–determination, courage and power. It’s about a little fish swimming against the tide…
A wise fish begins with telling the tale to her 12,000 grandchildren. She speaks of a little, black fish who wants to see what else is beyond the stream. Little Black Fish is tired of the other fish, all swimming up and down and around. They weren’t very nice or very clever fish. So Little Black Fish decides to leave. The story follows him to the sea in a political allegory that is as poignant now as it was 50 years ago. Sadly, it doesn’t end well for Little Black Fish, but by the time old fish has finished her story, only 11,999 of her grandchildren remain to listen. A Little Red Fish has gone to explore what else is possible in the world… This final message of hope is what gives the book its lasting legacy and ensures it as a classic across the world for any little fishes trying to break free.
First published in 1968, it rocked the nation during a pre-revolutionary Iran – a period of restrictive freedoms – and was promptly banned by the Iranian government. Written by Samad Behrangi, an outspoken Iranian teacher, author and social critic, his untimely death in 1967 was attributed to the political regime at the time.
Tiny Owl first published an English edition in hardback in 2015 with the original illustrations by Hans Christian Andersen Award winner Farshid Mesghali. His stunning block prints and mixed media backgrounds are as relevant today as they were in the 1960s and provide a visual richness that enchants both adults and children. Now, 50 years after it was first published, we are pleased to announce that a paperback edition will be released on 31 January 2017.
“It’s a book is about freedom, confinement, human possibility. Like all the best picture books, it is both simple and profound. “Perhaps,” says the little black fish, “there is more to life, and perhaps the world is more than our stream!” It’s a message for us all. This is a book that has been read and loved for generations in Iran, and at last the little black fish has swum to our shores.”
- The Little Black Fish has been shortlisted for the Marsh Award
- Take a look at the Guardian gallery with David Almond speaking about The Little Black Fish
- Read about why David Cadji-Newby selected the title as one of his top ten quest titles
- Read more news and reviews
Buy The Little Black Fish (paperback) here.
Buy The Little Black Fish (hardback) here.
Buy a limited edition print from The Little Black Fish, signed by the Hans Christian Andersen Award winner Farshid Mesghalihome