Tiny Owl

Caged

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Whilst two men chop down trees to create a clearing for their elaborate aviary filled with colourful parrots, a little bluebird constructs her nest in the boughs of a neighbouring tree. Here she lays her eggs, watching as the cages are piled higher and higher until at last a dome is placed on the very top. As the men below celebrate. the tiny bird flutters over and lands in top of the structure with disastrous consequences for the men and freedom for the parrots.

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One of the many joys of wordless picture books is the freedom they give the reader to develop their own story. Different people bring different things to the pictures, placing emphasis on and giving attention to different details. Why are the men constructing this? Why here? What is it for?

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Each parrot is caged in isolation in a space barely large enough for it to stretch it wings. The blue bird, in contrast, is free, laying its eggs in its own nest, yet is driven by curiosity to investigate the structure the men have created. Did it mean to free its fellow birds or was this a happy accident? Having caused chaos, the little bird returns to its home and watches as the beautiful, brightly coloured parrots flee to theirs. The only colour used is for the birds, leaving the men- and everything else - as empty outlines.

The story encourages you to think about freedom and what it means. It shows that the actions of the individual can make a real difference to the plans of those in charge. In ‘Caged’, the men get their comeuppance; the birds, their liberty. ‘Caged’ is a wonderfully illustrated tale about freedom and helping others.

Caged Duncan Annand

Tiny Owl ISBN:978-1910328316

Greenway Literary Festival 2019

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This weekend, I went to Dartmouth to visit the beautiful Greenway, former home of the wonderful Agatha Christie. A fascinating place to visit, this weekend was extra special because Greenway was hosting its first literary festival.

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Having visited the house and the boathouse- scene of one of the murders in ‘Dead Man’s Folly’- I made my way to the festival tent to see Beverley Naidoo, an amazing storyteller, who was going to be talking about her books ‘Cinderella of the Nile’ and ‘Journey to Jo’burg’.

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Starting with ‘Cinderella of the NIle’, Beverley explained that the version of the story she has retold is the earliest known telling of the Cinderella story.  Red-haired, rosy-cheeked Rhodopis is captured in the mountains of Greece and is sold in Samos, where wise storyteller Aesop befriends her. However, he master is angered by her sorrow and decides to send her away. Sold again in Egypt, she is given a pair of rose-red slippers by the merchant, Charaxos, who buys her. When Horus steals one of her slippers, Rhodopis ends up living happily ever after with Pharaoh Amasis.

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It’s a wonderful re-telling, illustrated by Iranian artist, Marjan Vafaeian, whose pictures Beverley obviously loves. Some of the children in the audience had been working from this book in school; other had been working from the second book Beverley spoke about, ‘Journey to Jo’burg’.

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Beverley read the opening of the story and explained how different South Africa had been when she wrote the story thirty four years ago. Telling stories from her own childhood, growing up there, Beverley really challenged the audience to think about how different the lives of the privileged white children were to those of the black children. Explaining that she had written the book because she was angry about the way things were and wanted to challenge things that were taken for granted, Beverley spoke movingly of her ‘second mother’, Mma Sebate and how, although the book had been dedicated to her, Beverley been unable to use her real name for fear that Mma Sebate would get into trouble for being associated with it.

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The book was banned in South Africa at the time and when Beverley sent copies of it to her niece and nephew who were living there, they were confiscated and her sister-in-law received an unpleasant letter from the government telling her this! Such an important, powerful book, ‘Journey to Jo’burg’ is as much a ‘must read’ today as it was 34 years ago.

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This was a fascinating session in a beautiful location. I hope that Greenway is planning on hosting another literary festival next year!

You can read about Beverley’s session at the Hay Festival last year here.

Hay Festival: One Story, Many Voices

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The 'Cinderella' story, and its many forms around the world, has always fascinated me. That this 'rags to riches' tale appears in so many cultures shows how similar we are as humans- how we want the happy ending for the downtrodden and for the 'baddies' to have their comeuppance!

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Beverley Naidoo has taken a 2,000 year old Greek version of this story to create her new book, 'Cinderella of the Nile.' and on Wednesday, I went to her Hay event about it. Sharing pictures from her childhood, Beverley showed us her copy of the 'Blue Fairy Book' which had been sent from Europe to the bookshop in South Africa where someone had bought it for her. Although she couldn't remember who had given it to her, she still had her copy, carefully wrapped in some embroidery her mother had started many years ago.

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Her childhood version of Cinderella was the Perrault version which many of us recognise- although many know a watered down form where the ugly sisters don't chop off sections of their feet to try to make the slipper fit! Maintaining the European images of setting and character for the story, the illustrations were of a Cinderella dressed in ornate gowns, running from a castle 'fit for a princess'- nothing like the South Africa of Beverley's childhood!

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The collaboration for her version of this ancient tale came about through Tiny Owl, an independent publishing company who believe that 'stories act as bridges- providing paths to new experiences whilst connecting us to here and there.' and I was delighted to discover that this is the first in a series of books that will introduce readers to different versions of traditional tales from a range of cultures, using a variety of illustrators and authors.

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Beverley part told, part read her story to the audience, using a range of props whilst Marjan Vafaeian's vibrant illustrations were shown on the screen overhead. Her warmth and delight in story telling was evident as she engaged with the audience throughout, adding details to her tale.

It was a lovely session with a fabulous story teller!

Cinderella of the Nile    Beverley Naidoo, illustrated by Marjan Vafaeian

Tiny Owl    ISBN: 978-1910328293