The Phoenix of Persia
About the author
Sally Pomme Clayton is a storyteller and writer. She loves to bring forgotten folk and fairy tales to life. She co-founded The Company of Storytellers, a group dedicated to promoting the importance of storytelling in all its forms. You can find out more about her on her website (see website resources).
About the illustrator
Amin Hassanzadeh Sharif was born in Tehran and is an award winning illustrator. To illustrate The Phoenix of Persia, Amin used a technique called sgraffito, which involves scratching through a layer of still-wet paint, to reveal what lies beneath.
About the book
The Phoenix of Persia is based on the Shahnameh, an epic poem from Iran, by the 10th century Iranian poet Ferdowsi. The Shahnameh would have been performed by storytellers and accompanied by musicians. This book tells the story of a mythical, phoenix-like bird, the Simorgh. The Simorgh takes care of a tiny baby, who grows up to be Prince Zal, the hero of many other stories in the Shahnameh.
Week 1: introduction. Read to the children, take home and reread
Week 2: revisit 7-12
Week 3: revisit whole book
Week 4: revisit whole book
We have counted the page beginning ‘The children raced…’ as page 1.
What is a phoenix?
Write the word phoenix on a large piece of paper and invite the children to add their knowledge to the sheet. Maybe you remember Fawkes from the Harry Potter series? Maybe you have read The Phoenix and the Carpet?
A phoenix is a mythological creature. Do you know what that means? You might like to look at Mrs Noah’s Pockets by Jackie Morris and James Mayhew, to see some other mythological creatures. Maybe you have models at home, of dragons, or minotaurs? Could you make a mythological display?
Where is Iran?
Find a large map. You could use the map from the Sasha and the Wolfcub slide show. Can you find Iran? Iran was called Persia by the Romans.
Performance and storytelling
You have performed poetry during session 2. Do you remember that one of the poems was narrative; it told a story? In ancient times, epic poems told very long stories about heroes and monsters and their adventures. Maybe you have heard of some, like the adventures of Odysseus? The Phoenix of Persia is a story book, but it is based on part of an old, epic poem. Some of the language used in the book might seem poetic to you. Listen out for repeated sounds (alliteration) and phrases or words that sound like the things they describe (onomatopoeia).
The Phoenix of Persia is a quite a short book, but it contains some challenging vocabulary. The story is also based on an epic poem that was written to be performed. Therefore it is an ideal book to read aloud to the group as a complete story. This will allow the children to develop an internal voice, which they can refer to on repeated reads. If you need to carry on the reading over two sessions that is fine, but keep the books in school until you have completed the story.
This book really lends itself to being read aloud. Read through the Choral Reading Guide (see resources) and then read pages 3 and 4 together as a chorus. You may spot some poetic language and also some new vocabulary for your word hoard as you work!
Revisit pages 7-10. What are the different characters thinking? You might like to read what they are saying to help you decide. Draw a thought bubble on a sticky note, and write the thoughts inside. Stick the thoughts into your book above the character. Share your books and see if you had different ideas.
King Sam and Queen Aram
Reread pages 11 and 12 together.
- Why do you think King Sam is so angry about Prince Zal’s white hair?
Look at the words that King Sam uses to describe Prince Zal. Do you think he is right?
- How would you help Queen Aram argue with her husband?
You might like to split into pairs and take the role of the King and Queen. Reread pages 19 and 20.
- Do you feel the King got what he deserved?
- Share your thoughts as to why he might have changed his mind?
Word study: perfect
King Aram wants a perfect baby. What does that mean? Use the Word Study resource to explore the word. You may like to fill this in as a group, after discussion.
Reread pages 13-18, and think about the characteristics of the Simorgh. Can you make your own characteristic cards? Write down two words each that you feel accurately describes her. As a group, sort the words from the most accurate to the least. Do you all agree?
Revisit the story and decide on the key events in Prince Zal’s life. Write these along the bottom of a piece of paper. Along the vertical side, make a happiness scale. Use this chart to map out how Prince Zal’s emotions change through the story. There is an example to help you in the resources.
Make a Simorgh feather
Create a colourful background with wax crayons or felt tips. You need to build up a thick layer. Cover this background with black crayon. Use a cocktail stick to scrape away the black, and draw a feather. You have used an illustrative technique called sgraffito! Look back in your book and see if you can see where Amin Hassanzadeh Sharif used the scraping technique.
- Why do you think he used this technique to illustrate the story?
- Do you like it?
The Phoenix of Persia is based on a traditional tale from Iran.
- What traditional tales have you read or heard from your own culture?
- Can you see any similarities between these tales and this story?
- What are the characteristics of a traditional tale, or fairy story, do you think?
- What clues might you look for to help you decide if a story is a fairy tale?
What makes a family?
Families are complicated things, and this might not be an appropriate topic to discuss with your group. However, you might like to think about whether or not Zal was pleased to meet his birth mother.
- Do you think that he loved the Simorgh like a mother?
- How do you think Zal and the Simorgh felt about the situation? Do you think Zal, the chicks and the Simorgh were a family?
- Can family members only be human?
Now you have read the book several times, how do you feel about it? Share your likes and dislikes together.
Perhaps you can use higher level language, and discuss the illustrations, rather than the pictures, or share how you enjoyed the alliteration.
- Can you think of any other stories which remind you of The Phoenix of Persia?
- Is anything still puzzling you about the story?
- Can you think of anyone you know who might enjoy this book? Share your reasons.
Can you describe the Simorgh in 3 words, but using only alliterative words?
Maybe you could scratch these words on to your phoenix feathers?
Photograph and submit your group’s entry.