Illustrator: Marjan Vafaian
Key stage: 1
The Parrot and the Merchant is now out in paperback! Based on a fable by Rumi, the 13th-century poet, philosopher and Sufi mystic, this retelling by internationally-renowned artist Marjan Vafaian was released in hardback in 2015. The tale of the merchant Mah Jahan and her birds explores what educational consultant Laura Davies describes as ‘the true meaning of love and the value of choice to all living things’ – an ideal introduction to philosophical questions for children.
Marjan Vafaian’s ‘exquisite, jewel-like illustrations’ (described by Jill Bennett) are undoubtedly the highlight of the book. Unusually for this story, she casts the merchant and all her entourage as women. Mah Jahan herself wears fabulous patchworks of brightly-coloured Persian patterns. Her caravans are full of them too, and even her birds have patterned plumage. There’s also plenty of symbolism amid this riot of colour: her dress is reduced to monochrome when a colourful bird appears to die in her hands.
This is most obviously a tale of learning the value of freedom, and how keeping what you love imprisoned is no way to show your love. But it’s also a more general message that love is much more valuable than all the merchant’s riches. Adults and children alike can appreciate these philosophical reflections, and adults already familiar with Rumi will be delighted by this fresh perspective.
As for those who haven’t encountered Rumi before, author David Almond gets the last word: ‘Rumi really is one of the world’s great authors. We all need to know more about him. Thanks to Tiny Owl, isn’t it marvellous that our children are being introduced to him in such a natural and elegant manner?’
- Read this inspiring review: The Parrot and the Merchant teaches about true love
- A blog report about storytelling of this book at Belsize Library
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