The story of BABUR, Prince, Emperor, Sage by Anuradha and Jane Ray

Most of us have been brought up listening to history, myths, legends and folk tales from other cultures.  But very often they can be from Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Caribbean or Chinese backgrounds.  So it is fascinating to have a story from a part of the world that we hear about in the news, but which we have little knowledge about their history; hopefully this book will help change that situation.

This is the story of the life of BABUR, who founded the Mughal Empire, at the same time that Henry VII and then Henry VIII were on the throne in England.  If we are aware of this dynasty it is because of the fifth Emperor,  Shah Jahan who was responsible for the building of the Taj Mahal, so it is fascinating to hear about the beginnings of this major dynasty.

The book is based on the autobiographical writings that Babur provided during his life and which he wrote between 1494 and 1530.  Originally the text was in a version of Turkish (Chagatay) but was then turned into Persian by the emperor Akbar.  The current author has had the job of greatly simplifying this work for a young audience; I believe that the original “Baburnama” is more than 400 pages, so this has been a mammoth task.

We start this tale in a part of the world that has changed names over the last centuries, so thankfully a map of the region has been included at the beginning of the story.  Basically we are looking at that area to the north and west of India and Pakistan, as we know them and which includes Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.  During the 16th Century this area was made up of a large number of small states, who were often at war with each other.  Babur was born as heir to the ruler of the state of Ferghana and at the age of 12 years he became king, after his father died in an accident.

The story is told in the first person as Babur reminisces about his life and the major events that took place.  It is noticeable that he spends a lot of his early life winning and losing territory; so that he is either a homeless wanderer, or the ruler of some important cities like Samarkand.  The memoirs see him gradually develop into someone who is more thoughtful and who  learns to understand the importance of wisdom when ruling a kingdom.  It is very evident that family was of great importance to him and he had a close relationship with his father and particularly with his grandmother; however it is with the birth of his eldest son that he discovered the happiest moment of his life.

This book is very highly illustrated by the artist Jane Ray and is full of her signature work, with the use of gold and bright colours.  She has been nominated for many awards including the Kate Greenaway Medal and won the Smarties Award for her picture book “The Story of Creation” in 1992.  I have been a great fan of her work, which in this case is very similar to many Persian illustrations  The colours are jewel-like and there is a real sense of movement and action, particularly in those scenes that depict battles and journeys.  In contrast we have a delicate and quite tender scene as Babur meets his wife and baby son.

Babur is a character who is full of contradictions at times, but he had a profound effect on his part of the world, creating a dynasty that was to rule for nearly 300 years, of which the final 100 years were just a shadow of the earlier period.  In a time where we are even more aware of the need for diversity and understanding of  other traditions, this will make an excellent addition to any school library.

The Story of Babushka

As a child I had a set of Russian wooden dolls, which were fitted one inside the other.  I had no idea about their  names or what their origins were; I just knew the were fascinating to play with and seemed very exotic, coming from so far away.  I now know that they are called matryoshka or babushka dolls.  The former title implies the mother character and I suppose this is shown by the outer figure protecting those inside; the latter name is linked to the idea of the Russian grandmother and the very recognizable headscarf that is worn by older generations of Russian women.  However the folk tale about Babushka  is about an elderly lady who spends all of her time cooking and looking after her house, but who one day is visited by three kings who are following a star, in order to find a new king.  She declines to go with them because she wants to clean the house and find gifts for the child.  By the time she follows them they have disappeared and she begins a journey to try and find the child they were searching for.  On her travels she gives away many of the gifts to small children who are in need although she never finds the three king because they have gone back to their own lands and the child has gone into exile in Egypt.

This new story by Catherine Flores brings a whole added dimension to the folk tale.  It blends the element  of the dolls along with the idea of sharing gift with people.  In this version we have the five interlocked dolls, each of which has their own special character; they are Antonia, who represents beauty, Loretta who shows wealth, Paula who is multi-talented, Viola who represents wisdom and finally Mary, whilst she is the smallest she represents love and compassion, something to be prized.  One after another they are tempted away to in order to fully use their talent, until finally it is only Mary who is left.  Gradually she realizes that something is missing from her life and she sets out to discover what that might be.  On her travels she meets her ‘sisters’, all of whom have been taken advantage of by those they tried to help.  The story eventually sees the sisters reunited and back in the their forest home, together with their friends.

This is such a beautiful tale about the importance of love and caring for those around us.  It also shows us that many of the things that are prized in our modern world are not necessarily vital to our well being.  There are several underlying messages that would be good for people to take on board and which would be a brilliant basis for discussion in a school environment.  The illustrator Ana Beatriz Marques has produced a wonderful group of characters; whilst they retain the look and spirit of the matryoshka dolls, they are all very individual and reflect the qualities of each of the five ‘sisters’.  The illustrations really take us in to the world of the dolls and we can understand the world that the author has created.

 

The author, Catherine Flores is from Switzerland, but now lives on the beautiful island of Madeira with her partner and their small son.  This is her first book for children and the whole process has been very much her project; however I am sure that we will be hearing more from her in the future.  She has worked with a digital concept and design company to produce the book, as well as a linked website https://thestoryofbabushka.com/.

Thank you Catherine for letting me part of this blog tour for Babushka.