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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Azizi and the Little Blue Bird
by Laila Koubaa
Age Range: 6-8
Azizi lives in the land of the Crescent Moon governed by the despotic, greedy Tih and Reni who rule with an iron grip. Every household must display their pictures; free speech is stifled and the people live in abject fear. The rulers decree that all the blue birds in the land must be captured and locked in a big cage in the courtyard of the palace. But one day, a tiny blue bird escapes and flies to Azizi's house. Azizi climbs on the bird's back and together they set out on a long journey across the land trailing a garland or flowers behind them that leaves a wisp of scent as they pass by. Will the little blue bird and Azizi be able to free the blue birds and liberate the people from the rule of their tyrannical despots?
This contemporary fairy tale by Laila Koubaa, translated from Flemish by David Colmer, has parallels with civil resistance of recent times, inspired by the Arab Spring, and in particular the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia in 2010/11. In a clever allegorical twist, which might not be obvious at first, the blue birds are representative of Twitter, and the widespread censorship of the internet by various governments during these revolutions.
" Sitting in his orange tree, Azizi saw people shrink and
shrink until they were almost invisible. And in the distance,
he saw Tih and Reni swelling and bulging like hot-air balloons.
Azizi too, felt himself shrinking, until he was as small
as a pine nut in a glass of mint tea."
Koubaa’s text is beautifully evocative and together with the whimsical pen-and-ink line drawings from one of Belgium's most talented illustrators Mattias De Leeuw, who is widely regarded as the Flemish Quentin Blake, they create a luscious imagery. The vibrant watercolour smudge effect and clever use of perspective helps to accentuate the text as the rulers get bigger and bigger whilst their people become smaller and smaller.
Azizi and the Blue Bird is a timeless story with the fairy-tale elements of good versus evil, but it’s the modern-day twist of a fight for freedom and justice over oppression and fear that make this unusual book so appealing.