Adult Beauty, Art, Music in Literature Books Classics Features Genre It's Monday What Are You Reading Lifespan of a Reader Nonfiction Poetry Reading Themes Young Adult (YA) Literature

[Monday Reading] Of Birds and Artists

Shaun Tan's "The Bird King" and Peter Sis' "The Conference Of The Birds."

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community. 

I’ve had these books for a long while now – bought them at the same time around three to four years back, but never had a chance to read them. Perhaps these two are just waiting for just the right timing when we are celebrating beauty and art as our reading theme to reveal its secrets to me.


The Conference Of The Birds

Inspired by the Original Poetry of: Farid Ud-Din Attar Art by: Peter Sis
Published by: Selfmadehero (2012)
ISBN: 1906838526 (ISBN13: 9781906838522). Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

This appears to be a condensed, illustrated version of Persian poet, Farid Ud-Din Attar’s poem. In this epic poem, Attar imagined himself transformed into a hoopoe bird, holding a conference with all the other birds in the universe to seek answers to life’s most important questions from “a king who has all the answers.”

As I was reading the hoopoe bird’s sense of urgency, clarity of purpose, and evidently charismatic way of being filled with certitude – I was reminded of modern-day politicians and the half-truths they peddle built on a foundation of self-deception, such that it has become real in their mind’s eye.

The entire book by Sis consists of five parts in all. The First Part has to do with the hoopoe bird convening the largest congregation of birds ever to convince them of their life’s mission, after tapping onto their fears and anxieties. The ultimate goal is to find King Simorgh who lives on the mountain of Kaf.

Part Five is when the remaining birds, exhausted from their quest, see the mountain of Kaf from a distance. In between, the reader gets to see their epic journey across seven valleys that lead the way to their ultimate destination (see image below).

Through each valley, the birds become doubtful, despondent, hopeful, inspired; a few surrender, die, fall away; a handful continue on despite the travails, and persevere.

This is a book that made me reflect deeply about my own life’s journey – and what I wish, ultimately to do in life. While a part of me anticipated the ending, it still blew me away with Sis’ trademark eye for beauty, as he brings us to his own vision of infinity and beyond.

I am glad that this book found me when it did. It reminds me of a love that is all-consuming, and yet regenerative. It has lifted my consciousness and allowed me to travel with the hoopoe and his conference of birds along these valleys, and back to mine own, wherever it may be.


The Bird King And Other Sketches

Created by: Shaun Tan
Published by: Templar Books (2011, first published in 2010)
ISBN: 1848770502 (ISBN13: 9781848770508). Literary Award: Locus Award Nominee for Best Art Book (2011). Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

This artist’s notebook consists of four major sections in all: (1) Untold stories, (2) Book, theatre, and film, (3) Drawings from Life and (4) Notebook. In each part, the reader is invited into Shaun Tan’s phantasmagoric mind, and is treated to his guileless manner of speaking to the reader with sensitivity, grace, and candour.

As I was reading this treasure – my senses filled, heart in my throat as I flipped through the images – I wondered why Shaun Tan has not been teaching yet in the university. Or maybe he is, I may not just be aware – but I do feel that there would be so many transformed young artists if touched by his brilliance that is never meant to impose, or prescribe, or prove anything. It simply is; unadorned, grounded, and genuine.

His Introduction also revealed the process of illustrating as the simple act of becoming:

Images are not preconceived then drawn, they are conceived as they are drawn. Indeed, drawing is its own form of thinking, in the same way birdsong is ‘thought about’ within a bird’s throat.

It was a privilege to be allowed access to the subterranean depths of Shaun Tan’s mind, although I can imagine him dismissing it in his usual self-effacing manner. Yet, the way in which he captured the very pulse of what it means to live and breathe the act of putting pen on paper, whether to sketch or shape into words that which is in his mind, seems like a gift to me.

While I loved the section Untold Stories the most, I was also taken by these scribblings on his notebook, particularly “The Boy With A Sewn-On Cat Head.”

So enamoured am I with this book, that I am now hoping to use some of its pages when I conduct a writers’ workshop with young, aspiring authors in one of the premiere schools here in Singapore.

Find this book. Serious readers and bibliophiles should get a copy of all Shaun Tan’s creations. They are all treasures.


#LitWorld2018GB Update: 50 / 51 (of target 40Persia / Czech Republic (The Conference of the Birds is originally written by a Persian poet, and the illustrator, Peter Sis is originally from Czech Republic).

Australia (Shaun Tan)

Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository

6 comments on “[Monday Reading] Of Birds and Artists

  1. Both of these books have now been added to my must read shelf. I discovered this other copy of The Conference of the Birds at my library. I’ve put them all on hold and am looking forward to comparing the versions. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/14656275-the-conference-of-the-birds?from_search=true

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Okay you convinced me, I will definitely find a copy of the Shaun Tan book! Thank you for sharing

    Here’s my Monday post

    Liked by 1 person

  3. WOW. That first photo of The Conference Of The Birds really captured me. I immediately looked through our local libraries and only came up with the original book of poetry. But I think I’ll be looking to request or purchase this one. Thank you for sharing the title, Myra!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sarah Sammis

    Your books are now must reads for me. My weekly updates

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was thrilled when I got to gush about Shaun Tan’s art with a fellow fan the other day!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. crbrunelle

    Both of these books are so unique and intriguing.

    Liked by 1 person

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