What You Need to Know:|
• This Armenian fable delivers a lesson on greed for children of all ages and cultures.
• In order for readers to get the most out of this story and really understand the underlying messages, this story
should be read for the first time with an adult.
• There is a great study guide for teachers and parents on the author’s website.
• There are references to several Armenian landmarks like Mount Ararat and Aghtamar.
• A sheep is said to be slaughtered and used for shish kebab.
Looking to add some variety to your bookshelf? Look no further. The Greedy Sparrow is an ancient Armenian fable about a tricky sparrow who asks others for kindness and in return makes unreasonable demands. The story begins when the sparrow asks a baker to remove a thorn from his foot and then later returns to ask for that thorn back. The baker who had tossed aside the seemingly worthless object now feels obliged to give the sparrow some bread in exchange. The sparrow tries a version of this game with several other players. He asks a shepherd to watch his bread and when the shepherd eats the bread, the sparrow demands his sheep. He asks a bride and groom to watch his sheep and when they eat it, he asks for the bride. Lastly, he asks a minstrel to watch the bride and when he fails to do so, the sparrow wants the man’s lute. Finally, the sparrow, feeling overly confident about his power and success, acts carelessly and slips, falling out of his tree and losing the lute. In the end, his arrogance and pride leave him back where he started, with nothing but a thorn in his foot.
Clearly none of these characters are role models for good behavior! First the sparrow pulls one over on the poor baker. Then, realizing that he can convince someone they’ve lost something of his, however worthless, and that they'll feel they owe him something even more valuable, he decides to try his trick on several others. His game could have gone on indefinitely, had he not "tripped" himself out of his last remaining asset. Yes, the sparrow is greedy, but what about the other characters? Most of them also act selfishly, despite their promises to do good deeds, and it is that selfishness that makes them vulnerable to the sparrow’s demands. Did he know that no one would live up to their promises and would, therefore, be unable to refuse his requests, or did he just get lucky? That's hard to say, but one thing is sure, nothing good comes from being selfish, greedy or simply self-absorbed.
On a side note, I have to admit that I was a little confused by the first line, “Once there was and was not”, until I went back to the beginning and read the Author’s Note which explains that Armenian stories start this way to “suggest that fantastical tales may be real or imagined.” The illustrations, beautifully designed with layers of wax and oil paint, cleverly depict the sparrow's escapades as well as various aspects of the Armenian culture. Consistent with the storyline, they give readers reason to pause and think. The facial expressions especially caught my attention because they manage to convey so many different emotions. The sparrow looks menacing, the shepherd appears guilty and the look on the sheep's face as the sparrow carries him off, is priceless. We can repeat important lessons over and over again to our children, but sometimes it’s a book that has the greatest impact. The story of The Greedy Sparrow is sure to leave an impression on your reader, or at the very least, help start a good conversation.
2011, 32 pages
Character/Values, Ethics, Ethnicity/Culture, Folk Tales/Fables, Geography
• Was the sparrow trying to trick the baker or was he simply asking for help?
• Why does the sparrow, who is smaller than most of its victims, have such influence over them?
• How would you describe the sparrow’s behavior? Was he acting appropriately or was he wrong in his actions?
• Is the sparrow the only one who does wrong in this story? If not, who else?
• Why didn’t anyone say no to the sparrow?
• Have you ever felt pressured to give away something of yours? What are some good ways to say “no”?
• Is the sparrow clever? In what ways?
• How do you feel about what happened to the sparrow in the end?
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