By Sufiya Ahmed, illustrated by Reza Dalvand, Tiny Owl 2019 (UK), 2020 (US)
My daughter’s favourite character in this charming re-telling of an old fable, is the monkey, Miss Bandari. I asked her why, and she said ‘Because she shares her plums.’ It is kindness, sweetness (in its various guises), that lies at the heart of this story.
Miss Bandari the monkey throws plums from her tree to old Mr Magarmach the crocodile, and so begins an unlikely friendship. It’s an old story, of a crocodile (King Crocodile in this version) wanting to eat the fruit-sweetened heart of a monkey, and a bit of quick thinking that sends them back to the tree to collect the forgotten heart.
I knew the story sounded familiar, so after a rummage, found and read too Vikram Seth’s version, ‘The Crocodile and the Monkey’, the first story in Beastly Tales from Here and There (illus. Meilo So, Phoenix, 2001). The Seth version is less sweet, more beastly, and some of the language was tricky for a nearly 4 year old, but we enjoyed comparing the two versions, how much nicer Mr Margarmach is than Kuroop, how Miss Bandari is like the other monkey.
She’s most intrigued though by the relationships in Under the Great Plum Tree, who tricks who, and why the elephant, Dame Hati, is a true friend, not Mr Magarmach. ‘Why does he lose his best friend?’ ‘Mr Magarmach puts Miss Bandari in danger,’ I try to explain. This telling has a message of forgiveness as well, though, and Miss Bandari shares her plums with her friend again, once he’s proven himself to be a true friend.
As well as a lovely story to read, this Tiny Owl book is beautifully illustrated by Reza Dalvand – Miss Bandari is neat in her gorgeous dress and jewellery, the jungle blooms from the pages and King Crocodile is convincingly menacing in black and red designs inspired by Indo-Persian traditions. This is a lively, inviting book, with lots of heart.