In the Public Eye: Iranian Creators of Children’s Books
If you are a fan of international children’s literature, finding books from specific countries, or from creators that are from those countries, can be a trial. Happily, we have the internet. A hodgepodge of information, true, but once in a great while it can be of use. And if you have looked at the wide swath of children’s literature out in 2019, you might have noticed an interesting trend. We’re seeing a nice increase in the number of books and creators from other countries. The country where I’ve seen the starkest increase? Iran. For whatever reason, Iranian children’s books and creators from Iran are on the rise. Which is to say, I’ve seen four of them this year. That’s not a huge number, but for a single year it’s pretty interesting.
Today, I’d like to give a bit of a rundown on these books. They vary in content and style. Some are folktales and others are contemporary. Some were published in Iran first, and some were published here in the States.
The Little Black Fish by Samad Behrangi, ill. Farshid Mesghali, translated by Azita Rassi
To begin, let’s start with a book that has been reprinted here in the States. Samad Behrangi’s The Little Black Fish was illustrated by Hans Christian Andersen Award winner Farshid Mesghali and was initially published in Persian in Iran in 1968. Originally published by Kanoun Parvaresh Fekri, this new version is published by Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd and translated by Azita Rassi. I highly recommend that you check out Jules Danielson’s blog post on the book, which includes copious internal spreads. She also gives you background information on why the book was banned back in the day.
The Parrot and the Merchant: A Tale by Rumi, illustrated by Marjan Vafaeian, translated by Azita Rassi
A merchant loves to collect beautiful wild birds in cages. When she asks the cleverest of her birds, a parrot, what gift he would like, his answer leads to his freedom. This 13th-century tale is brought to life by an evocative Iranian artist. If the title sounds familiar, that may be because this tale was adapted into a picture book around 2010 called The Secret Message by Mina Javaherbin. I loved that book, but I’m quite drawn to this one too. Vafaeian made it a point to cast the merchant in this story as a woman, which I thought was interesting. It helps that it’s a strong fable too. Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd is also responsible for this release.
Riding a Donkey Backwards: Wise and Foolish Tales of Mulla Nasruddin, retold by Sean Taylor and the Khayaal Theatre, ill. Shirin Adl
Trickster or fool? Twenty-one classic tales from Muslim cultures follow the adventures of Mulla Nasruddin, illustrated with a great deal of flare and humor. Now the last time I saw Shirin Adl’s work (and this is dating me a bit) it was when she did Pea Boy and Other Stories back in 2010 with Elizabeth Laird. Additionally, I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve seen a collection of wise fool tales! They can be difficult to reinterpret into a picture book format but I like what Taylor, the Theatre, and Adl pull off here. There is a great mix of different kinds of art styles including miniature sets and paper cutout figures wearing costumes of cut-out fabric. Some of the tales are stronger than others, sure, and some will sound familiar (can you find the one that crops up in Fiddler on the Roof?) but one or two actually made me snort very loudly in my staff lunchroom when I read them. I can’t help it. I like this funny little collection. Candlewick is the publisher.
My Grandma and Me by Mina Javaherbin, ill. Lindsey Yankey
I’ve seen lots of Ms. Javaherbin’s books over the years (she was the one responsible for that previous iteration of The Parrot and the Merchant that I alluded to earlier) but I’d never really realized that she grew up in Iran until this book was released. In My Grandma and Me, Javaherbin models the story on her everyday life in pre-revolutionary Iran when she lived with her grandmother. I liked how the starred Kirkus review said it provides, “A deep and beautiful book modeling grandmothers as heroines.” Look for it in August when Candlewick (again!) puts it out.
That’s all I’ve seen so far, but if you know of any other books that would fit on this list and that were released in 2019 in the States, please tell me what they are. Oh. And if you want a particularly strange connection between Iran and children’s literature, ask me sometime to tell you the story of what happened when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s wife visited the Winnie-the-Pooh toys at New York Public Library. That was an interesting day . . .
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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