Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Book Review: The Greedy Sparrow by Lucine Kasbarian, illustrated by Maria Zaikina (2011)

The Greedy Sparrow is a retelling of a folk tale from Armenia which the author, Lucine Kasbarian, learned from her father. The story begins with a sparrow who has a thorn stuck in his foot. A woman baking bread removes the thorn for him, and the bird goes on his way. Later, though, he returns, demanding the thorn, and when he learns that the woman disposed of it, he demands something else in exchange. As the story progresses, the sparrow makes more and more demands on more and more strangers, always demanding something in exchange for an item that isn't really his to begin with. In the end, his greed gets the better of him and he ends the story no better off than when he began.

I really loved this book. The story, whose moral is, essentially, "what goes around comes around" or perhaps "you reap what you sow" has a unique flair, and there aren't many other folk tales or fables that it reminded me of. I loved that the story mentioned specific locations, such as Mount Ararat, because it grounds the tale in the culture from which it came, and provides opportunities for children to learn about a new country as they read. The illustrations, which absolutely consume every inch of white space, are beautiful, and I loved seeing the Armenian style of dress represented on each page. The sheep in this book also have wonderful facial expressions, which gave them unexpected personality.

According to a note on the copyright page inside the book, the art for this book was created with wax and oil paint, and layers were literally cut away to reveal the colors underneath the wax. Knowing this gave me a new appreciation for the illustrations, where you can actually see the strokes the artist made as she worked on each page. It's just so appealing to look at, and even the smallest details, which must have been the most difficult, appear flawless.

This book is simple enough, certainly, to be shared with preschoolers, but would also work well for an elementary school unit about folk tales or Armenian culture. I really hope my library system will purchase a copy so that I can share it at story time and beyond.

Visit Lucine Kasbarian online at

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