One of Tiny Owl’s illustrators has made a wonderful speech in praise of Iranian children’s picture books. Hoda Haddadi, illustrator of A Rainbow in My Pocket and of another upcoming title published by Tiny Owl, spoke at the awards ceremony of the Biennial of Illustration Bratislava about the history of artwork in Iranian literature.
One of the titles she chose to focus on was The Parrot and the Merchant (published by Tiny Owl), comparing the different ways in which the story has been illustrated throughout the ages. In many versions, the merchant is a fat, moustached old man, with a comical green parrot. But as she observes in this extract from her speech, Marjan Vafaian interpreted the story a little differently!
… In my study case there is a different book illustrated by Marjan Vafaeian, a talented illustrator who completely deconstructed this story.
Her merchant, contrary to what most viewers expect, is neither fat nor bearded. The merchant she created is a woman, her name is Mah Jahan and she appears very elegantly with a grey parrot. She seems a free woman with a different lifestyle.
Marjan chose coloured pencils to make this images more delicate and feminine. Look at the details of Mah Jahan’s skirt. The servants are grey, but Mah Jahan has glorious coloured dresses.
The illustrator wonderfully makes the camel loads transparent for us to see what she has brought from India. This is the only version which answers our curiosity about the merchant’s purchases.
When the Indian parrot pretends to have died, everything becomes grey; the colourful dress of the Merchant is not colourful anymore.
And when her parrot pretends to die too, you can see a very traditional Iranian mourning ceremony by looking at the servants and the way they show their grief.
This unusual book was never published in Iran. Not because of censorship of the cultural system but because of publishers who did not dare to invest in it. At last it was taken on by Tiny Owl, located in London, who published it in 2015. According to the publisher’s report, the book got many good reviews.
Producing art books is necessary for the book market. They sometimes sell well and sometimes don’t, but their influence on readers is beyond question. In Iran, most influential books on children are books made for the sake of art. Generations follow them and keep them as cultural heritage items. I believe a new generation of outstanding books will come to the market from Iran in the next 10 years.
The Biennial of Illustration Bratislava is one of the oldest and most prestigious international honours for children’s book illustrators, judged by an international panel. The UK’s entrants were nominated jointly by ICPBS and IBBY UK, and included Merdokht Amini, illustrator of an upcoming title for Tiny Owl.
We were also delighted to hear that an Iranian illustrator won a prize! Narges Mohamedi won the Big Golden Apple award for her picture book I Was a Deer. We are so glad to see Iranian artists and their work being represented in international awards.
- Young at heart: read an interview with Hoda Haddadi
- A wise and worldly love story: a review of The Parrot and the Merchant
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