Phoenix Song started life as a version of a Malay folktale of Buluh Perindu (literally: yearning or sighing bamboo). Three brothers were given the task of fetching a bamboo cutting from a cursed hill. The two elder brothers ignored an old man’s advice whilst on their way and ended up turned to stone. The youngest, showing respect for the wisdom offered to him, managed to gather a piece of the magical bamboo.
Given a contemporary setting, this has become a story about family and courage that will appeal to children of all ages.
The book offers plenty of opportunities for discussion about families, relationships and finding the courage to help others. Arohan has to face disappointment, overcome his fear and use his talent to save his brothers and children can relate to his feelings and through them, explore their own.
Folk tales and legends from many cultures can also be explored, with the role of the phoenix in this story and many others being discussed. Caring for nature and the environment are also themes raised, but not in a way that detracts from the pleasure of the story itself.
The vibrant colours of the illustrations work with the text perfectly; the rich greens of the bamboo grove seeming to hide secrets; the burning shades of Cendrawasih (the phoenix) spreading its magic. The family are also beautifully portrayed. The artist has managed to capture a real sense of family affection at Arohan's birthday party, between mother and son as Arohan shares his disappointment when he receives the xiao and brotherly love at the end when he has saved his siblings. My favourite is the picture of Arohan as he plays with all his heart and the bamboo leans in towards him, circling him and sharing his music.
A lovely book that deserves to be shared again and again.