The Parrot and the Merchant
Author: Based on a tale by Rumi
Illustrator: Marjan Vafaian
Translator: Azita Rassi
Reading age: 6 – 8 (and 9 – 11 as a stimulus for philosophical enquiry)
The Parrot and the Merchant has, to me, the feel of Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ as it depicts the foolishness of vanity. We follow the story of Mah Jahan, a wealthy Persian merchant (refreshingly a woman rather than the male merchant often depicted in this context) who treasures the beautiful birds she collects on her travels. Though she believes she is showering them with love by offering gifts from her journeys afar, the reader is guided to the true meaning of love and the value of choice to all living things. We follow the journey of the parrot as he cleverly guides the hand of his mistress to lead him ultimately to the greatest gift of all – freedom and flight.
The illustrations add wonderful flourishes to the story, beautifully depicting the wealth of the merchant in all her colourful finery. She is almost made immobile by her riches in the bulk of the story – a really clever addition to the story which would be interesting to reflect on with children. Is she actually the one who is trapped by her own perceptions and materialistic values? When she believes the parrot that she sought advice from is dead, she is depicted in hues of grey and dusky cream and it is the treasured bird who remains truly bright. This is a clue to the story ahead, and would be lovely to share with children after the first reading if it is not something they pick out themselves, what do they think this symbolises in the story?
- The Parrot and the Merchant teaches about true love
- Meeting the illustrator in Tehran
- Read David almond’s words about this book in the Guardian
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