We’ve always loved going on a “literary journey” from the comfort of our couch by reading stories from other countries. Next stop? Tehran’s traditional story about a girl and a mean stepmother, though it’s definitely not the story you’ve heard before.
The Girl With a Brave Heart, from Tehran-born Israeli singer Rita Jahanforuz, had me thinking “Cinderella” at the start, but rather than being “saved” by a shoe and a prince, this heroine has a much more satisfying lesson for my two girls to hear.
Shiraz is a little girl who spends her days indoors cooking and cleaning without complaint. Then, one day, she finds herself having to work up enough courage to ask a strange neighbor for a ball of yarn that has accidentally rolled into her yard. This neighbor has some magic up her grimy sleeve, but it’s not the kind of transformative magic that turns a pumpkin into a carriage or a toad into a prince. Instead this magic helps reveal the beauty that already exists inside Shiraz.
Remember: This is fairy-tale territory, and we must suspend our 21st century parenting rules as Shiraz goes into the stranger’s home in order to do chores to “win back” her ball of yarn. Similarly, my kids know that kissing a toad is not okay either, let alone walking alone in the woods to Grandma’s house.
One of the most compelling aspects of this picture book are Vali Mintzi’s illustrations which are filled with Persian reds, blues, and greens, along with traditional landscapes and dress. The pages show us a vibrant, exotic setting very different from our own suburban home.
Also quite unique is the moral of the story that is spelled out at the end of the book. It is incredibly powerful, with one of the most poignant last lines I can recall reading in a long time. –Christina