retold by Elizabeth Claire, illustrated by Miriam Katin. Mondo Publishing, 1994.
Often when first graders come to the library they ask me for princess stories. They are studying fairy tales from China and India now in their classrooms, so I am taking the opportunity to read an Indian princess story. Little Brown Jay is a pourquoi story about a princess living in India about 300 years ago. She is beautiful to look at but has an ugly voice. Her beloved Prince Rama is blind. Ah, what a difficulty! How can she get his attention?
She meets a little brown jay in the garden that has a beautiful singing voice and is told by him that if she picks a magic lotus flower from the pond at midnight she can make a wish. With this magic the princess exchanges her voice for the jay’s. In gratitude she wishes that he would become as beautiful and blue as her silk scarf. In the end the Prince and Princess are happy together and the jay was even happier as a beautiful little blue jay.
At the back of this edition of the book there are several pages of information on the pourquoi story form, which occurs all over the world as people tell stories to explain natural phenomena. Pictures from the traditional telling of this fairy tale, lotus flowers and modern Indian lifestyles and art work are also included. This additional information sets the story in context for North American children. The illustrations throughout the book are beautiful soft paintings filled with swirls of color.
One question that comes to mind for me is the depiction of the blue jay at the end of the story. He looks just like the typical North American Blue Jay, whose characteristic harsh voice screams across wooded areas whenever his territory is intruded upon. I don’t believe he lives in India, however. There is another type of blue jay that lives in India, also called the “Blue Roller”. I wonder why the illustrator didn’t use that bird? The two birds could easily have been explained and compared in the informational pages at the end of the book. It seems a missed opportunity for a science tie-in at the least. Well, it’s a great story and we enjoy the book immensely anyway.