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The Girl with a Brave Heart

The Girl with a Brave Heart is an Iranian folk tale, penned by Israeli singer and writer Rita Jahanforuz and illustrated in bold, evocative shades by Vali Mintzi (who has been influenced by Bonnard, Hockney & Matisse.)

Its opening is reminiscent of Cindarella (a girl whose father dies and is left with an unkind stepmother and stepsister, slaving day and night to keep the house clean), but goes on to be so much more than that. In the heart of Tehran, one young girl by the name of Shiraz is knitting when a gust of wind blows her ball of wool over the balcony and into the courtyard of a neighbour’s house.

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Afraid to go and recover the wool from this strange and unsettling old woman, Shiraz nonetheless summons the courage to go and knock on her door. The house is filthy and un-loved and the old lady with wild and dirty long hair tells her she may have her wool back upon the condition that she destroys everything in the kitchen and the garden as well as cut off her long, unkempt hair.

‘The old lady gave Shiraz a heavy hammer. ‘I want you to smash all the dishes, and the draining board and the sink. Smash everything,’ she said.’

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Shiraz listens to the old woman’s words, but cannot find it in her heart to carry out her request. Instead, she scrubs the sink and mops the floor; she prunes and trims the plants in the sad, overgrown garden and she washes the old lady’s hair and brushes it so that it hung gleaming and silver down her thin back.

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When Shiraz eventually returns home, neither her stepmother or stepsister recognise her because she has become so beautiful. Determined for her own daughter, Monir, to become as beautiful as Shiraz, the following day they throw another ball of wool into the old lady’s courtyard. Monir hurries to the house impatiently and is asked to do the same three things as Shiraz and readily smashes up the kitchen with the hammer, hacks down all the flowers and shrubs in the garden and cuts off all her hair, quickly and carelessly.

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Upon returning home, the girl’s mother is horrified to see how ugly Monir has become, for her hair hung limply around her ears, her eyes were mean and small and her skin was grey and rough.

Immediately, they turn upon Shiraz, furious with her for keeping back what they believe to be the real secret of her beauty. ‘I did exactly what she asked,’ Monir cries. ‘She told me to destroy the kitchen, and I destroyed it. She told me to destroy the garden, and I destroyed it. She asked me to cut her hair, and I cut it.’ It is only then that Shiraz realises what has happened, the tale finishing on a note of startling clarity and wisdom as Shiraz grows to become a person remembered by everyone:

‘The girl with a brave heart, who had listened and had understood that when people are sad, they do not always know how to ask for what they need.’

My children absolutely love this story, in particular my six year old daughter. This gentle tale of bravery and compassion, coupled with Mintzi’s vivid illustrations ensure that it will be asked for again and again. Click here to buy the book for yourself, typing the name of the book into the top right search engine.

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