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Roundup of Children’s Literacy and Reading News – June in Review

The Greedy Sparrow: An Armenian Tale: Lucine Kasbarian

Book: The Greedy Sparrow: An Armenian Tale (WorldCat)
Author: Lucine Kasbarian
Illustrator: Maria Zaikina
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4 to 8

Images The Greedy Sparrow is a retelling by Lucine Kasbarian of an Armenian Folk Tale. Since my husband is Armenian, and Baby Bookworm is half Armenian, this seemed like a book that we needed to have in our collection. And we're happy to have it.

Like most folk tales, The Greedy Sparrow has an overt moral. But, in Kasbarian's version, anyway, the reader is not bashed over the head with the moral. Rather, we spend most of the book shaking our heads at the antics of the greedy sparrow, and only see him get his (relatively mild) comeuppance on the last page.

The sparrow starts out with a thorn in his foot. He asks a baker woman to pull it out. She does, cheerfully, and throws the thorn into her fire. Then the manipulative sparrow demands to have his thorn back. When this is impossible, he guilts the woman into giving him a piece of bread. He then repeats this behavior, trading up and up and up by taking advantage of people's good nature, and in some cases their own inability to resist things (e.g. he asks a hungry shepherd to watch the bread, and then ends up with a sheep when the shepherd eats the bread, etc.). Of course he faces a reversal at the end, because that's how these stories work.

My favorite part of The Greedy Sparrow, having spent a lot of time with Armenians, is when a groom, left to care for the sheep at his wedding, wonders "what would happen if I slaughtered the sheep, grilled it, and made shish kebab for all the guests?" (The Armenians that I know eat a lot of shish kebab.) Of course this aspect of the book may not be pleasing to everyone. (No worries - the pictures go straight from worried sheep to skewers on the grill - no details.)

Another aspect of the book that I liked, but that non-Armenian readers might find challenging, is that there are various Armenian place names mentioned, like the Arax River, Mount Ararat, Lake Van, and Aghtamar. A pronunciation guide, at least for the last location, might have been useful, but isn't strictly necessary.

Maria Zaikina's illustrations are perfect for the story. The art was created with layers of wax and oil paint, with layers then cut away to reveal the colors underneath. The resulting illustrations have bold colors and decisive lines, and a crayon-like texture. The illustrations feel rustic, as befits a folk tale set in mostly rural areas. The church, the wedding clothes, and the people's faces all look, to my eyes, authentically Armenian. Even the greedy sparrow has kind of a Middle Eastern look to him. The book's designer, Anahid Hamparian, is apparently Armenian, and her attention to detail shows. I also love the expressive face of the ill-favored sheep.

The Greedy Sparrow is a lovingly created rendition of a traditional Armenian fable. It is authentic and entertaining, and conveys the anti-greed message with a deft touch. The Greedy Sparrow is a welcome addition to the ranks of multicultural picture books and folk tale retellings. Recommended.

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Children's Books (@MarshallCav)
Publication Date: April 1, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.