Title: The Greedy Sparrow: An Armenian Tale
Author: Lucine Kasbarian
Illustrator: Maria Zaikina
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Children, 2011
When one thinks of folk tales, familiar ones from childhood are first to come to mind. Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella. But this depends on the child. Armenian children's author Lucine Kasbarian remembers the story of a greedy sparrow she learned from her father and grandmother when she was little. As an adult, she decided to turn that story into a picture book, and with smashing results.
In this tale, starting with the traditional Armenian folk tale beginning of "There once was and was not" (explained in a helpful author's note at the beginning), a sparrow starts off with a thorn in its foot. It asks a nearby baker if she will remove it, and she does it, "with pleasure!" The sparrow flies off and the baker tosses the thorn into her fire. But then in a twist, the sparrow comes back later and demands the thorn back. Clearly it's impossible to retrieve it, so he demands a loaf of bread in return. So the baker does.
In a pattern of lending and replacing, the sparrow goes from bread to a sheep (how hilarious is that cover picture of the sparrow flying with the sheep?), and on to other replacements, until his greed gets him right back where he started.
I loved the predictable pattern of the storytelling, and yet despite knowing that each person the sparrow asks to watch over the items will fail him, I was sometimes surprised at what the sparrow asked for in return! It's really delightful, and we get the beautiful illustrations to show us the funny results (sheep!).
Speaking of the illustrations, there couldn't have been a better artist than Maria Zaikina for this book. Her unusual style of using layered wax and oil paint brings us striking, textured representation of each scene in the story. It definitely lends it a folksy feel. And the clothing! I love the traditional outfits of all the Armenians she illustrated, especially in the wedding scenes. I loved that little bit of my culture brought to life.
Kasbarian mentions a number of real places that are or were in Armenia, such as Lake Van, Mount Ararat, and Aghtamar. In a discussion guide I received with the book, it asks readers to do some research and find out which ones are no longer in Armenia.
My only regret about this book is there is not much background information in the actual book. I would love to see another, longer author's note at the back explaining some of the traditions that were explained in the supplementary material I received with this, like the importance of minstrels in Armenia back in the day.
I will most certainly be keeping this picture book through the years, and when I have children some day, I'll share this part of their heritage with them in the form of The Greedy Sparrow.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author for review.