A Per­sian Princess

Bar­bara Dia­mond Goldin, Steliyana Done­va (illus.)

  • Review
By – March 2, 2020

In Bar­bara Dia­mond Goldin’s new Purim pic­ture book, a lit­tle girl, Raya, enters her grandmother’s room and is over­come by the sen­so­ry expe­ri­ence. There is a gold­en samovar, an ornate ham­sa sym­bol on the wall, and a trunk filled with sil­ver and silk. This is not a fairy tale; it is a true-to-life sto­ry of inter­gen­er­a­tional love and the tra­di­tions which grand­par­ents hope will sur­vive through their grand­chil­dren. With mov­ing text by Goldin , a Syd­ney Tay­lor Body-of-Work Award recip­i­ent, and live­ly pic­tures by Steliyana Done­va, the unique rela­tion­ship between Per­sian Jews and the fes­ti­val of Purim becomes vivid for young read­ers. Author and illus­tra­tor seam­less­ly blend the his­to­ry and unique cus­toms of this ancient com­mu­ni­ty with the close bond between a Per­sian grand­moth­er and her Amer­i­can grandchild.

Raya is frus­trat­ed by her younger child sta­tus. She will have to wait one more year to par­tic­i­pate in the reli­gious school’s Purim play in which her broth­er, Nati, has a star­ring role. Her Maman joon,” (grand­moth­er) is sen­si­tive to this ordi­nary, but no less painful, feel­ing of being mar­gin­al­ized. Maman joon is empath­ic, cre­ative, and super-com­pe­tent. She can bake koloocheh cook­ies with Raya and skill­ful­ly repair Nati’s Mordechai cos­tume. Her con­nec­tion to the younger gen­er­a­tion is car­ing as well as pro­tec­tive. Show­ing Raya the trea­sures of her past, she explains the way her fam­i­ly cel­e­brat­ed Purim when they lived in Iran. While her granddaughter’s long­ing to dress as a princess may be shared by oth­er Amer­i­can chil­dren, to Maman joon, it is a way to ensure the vital­i­ty of their spe­cial her­itage. Offer­ing her tra­di­tion­al dress­es to Raya, she com­ments, It would make me hap­py if you wore them. They remind me of peo­ple and places I miss.” As she details the beau­ty of that past, she is moved to tears.

Maman joon’s warmth and dig­ni­ty informs the book on every page. In Doneva’s pic­tures, she is an ele­gant old­er woman with salt-and-pep­per hair, some wrin­kles, and dan­gling gold ear­rings fram­ing her face. She helps Raya plan an alter­na­tive Purim play to be held at their home, invit­ing the neigh­bor­hood, and she helps Raya deliv­er mishloach man­ot—box­es with Purim treats. Along with the food, the chil­dren receive a les­son in the mean­ing of the hol­i­day from Raya, who, inspired by her grand­moth­er, nar­rates the tale of Queen Esther’s brav­ery. There is more to being a queen than wear­ing a pret­ty cos­tume; Raya’s rela­tion­ship with her Per­sian grand­moth­er rein­forces this lesson.

The Purim play fur­ther empha­sizes Maman joon’s influ­ence. In a ref­er­ence to her pow­er­ful pres­ence in Raya’s life, her grand­moth­er puts on her own father’s robe, a paper crown, and a beard, trans­form­ing her­self into a king. Raya notes that her grand­moth­er no longer looks like her­self but she is thrilled to have Maman joon assume the role of Aha­suerus, the ruler con­vinced by his wife to save her peo­ple: The king took Esther’s hand and said, I will change Haman’s decree. Your peo­ple are saved.’” In help­ing her grand­daugh­ter under­stand the mean­ing of their Per­sian iden­ti­ty, she has also suc­ceed­ed in sav­ing her own lost experience.

A Per­sian Princess is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed and­in­cludes A Note for Fam­i­lies,” explain­ing both the fes­ti­val and the his­to­ry of Jews in Per­sia (mod­ern Iran).

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

Discussion Questions