Tiny Owl

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

LONGLIST REVIEW: The Elephant's Umbrella

Elephant loves his umbrella and is only too happy to share this with anyone in need. One day, however, the wind whisks his umbrella away and passes it to the leopard. Although leopard is delighted, the umbrella doesn't like the sound of his plans and so chases the wind, who takes it to bear. Again, the umbrella does not like bear's intentions and fortunately, finds its way back to elephant who is delighted to be reunited with it. 

'The Elephant's Umbrella' is a simple story with a clear message about the importance of sharing what you have with others. Leopard and Bear both have selfish reasons for keeping the umbrella whereas the Elephant's pleasure in having it comes from the pleasure it gives him to share with others. It would make an excellent starting point for discussions about empathy and kindness, perhaps also extended to the idea of sharing shelter in wider terms with those in need. It could also be used to consider things from the umbrella's point of view- it wants to be shared and not used for selfish reasons. This idea could be explored in relation to natural resources, for example. 

Children could be encouraged to extend the story by writing of further encounters the umbrella might have with other animals and the reasons they might want to keep the umbrella before it makes its way back to Elephant. They could write in role as the umbrella, exploring its thoughts as it goes from one animal to the next. Children could dramatise the book and present it as a play to share with others. 

The illustrations are delightful- I love the coloured raindrops falling across the rainy-sky backgrounds, the vibrant colours of leopard and the layered leaves of the jungle. Much art work could come from sharing and enjoying the pictures.

The Elephant's Umbrella  by Laleh Jaffari, illustrated by Ali Khodai

Tiny Owl   ISBN: 978-1910328170