With all the ingredients of an enduring fairy tale, Azizi and the Little Blue Bird is a charming and beautiful tale of freedom over oppression and hope over fear, with the intriguing twist that it is actually based on real-life events from just a few years ago.
Written by Laïla Koubaa, illustrated by Mattias De Leeuw and translated by David Colmer, this allegory is set in an imaginary Middle Eastern land where despotic rulers, Tih and Reni, cream the land for its riches whilst locking up those they don’t like. Thus it comes to pass that all the country’s blue birds are trapped in one huge cage inside the rulers’ palace.
Whilst Tih and Reni feast on opulent riches, a single bird manages to escape and to find the hero of our story, a young boy. Azizi climbs onto the blue bird’s back and soon they are flying over the whole country, with a garland of flowers trailing behind them, leaving a ribbon of scent as if to wake the senses of everyone they pass. Will it be enough to overthrow the tyrants and free the birds?
Wonderfully rich imagery in word and illustration triggers memories of colourful bazaars piled high with riches. De Leeuw makes liberal use of smudges; creating softer, more energetic illustrations where you can feel the hand of the illustrator very close by. His use of perspective accentuates the sense of oppression: The rulers get bigger and bigger whilst their subjects become smaller and smaller.
Koubaa’s timeless tale, translated with clarity and beauty by David Colmer, actually refers to a period in 2010/2011 when, during the Arab Spring. the the internet was censored and/or shut down during the uprisings, in an attempt to prevent protests from spreading over the region. The little blue birds – have you already guessed it? – refer to Twitter.
For me it is fascinating to see a children’s picture book explore the positive side of social media, albeit metaphorically. When I recently looked into portrayals of social media in books for the very young, I found that the message was overwhelmingly a negative one. This book, however, would be an interesting one to include in a more nuanced discussion about the pros and cons of life online as explored through picture books.
Azizi and the Little Blue Bird is a wonderfully hopeful and evocative fairy story is about good triumphing over bad and little people being brave and clever. I hope it reaches the wide audience it deserves.
Enchanted by the vision of a sweet smelling garland of flowers spreading and hope, the girls and I raided our allotment for flowers we could thread.
Using tapestry needles (nice and big for little hands), and strong thread the girls set to threading their garland.
It was a lovely sensory experience and soon we had a good long stretch of colour and good cheer.
We added a few blue birds and our garland was complete!
Bergamot, zinnias and cornflowers (the flowers we used) all dry quite well so I’m hoping that the garland will have quite a long life.
Whilst making our flower garland we listened to:
Other activities which might work well alongside reading this book include:
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Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher.