Once upon a day and once upon a time, under the purple dome of the sky, there was a king who had a beautiful bird that could change to seven beautiful colors, sing seven wonderful songs, and dance seven different dances...
More than simply a way of preparing children for sleep, bedtime stories are an institution.
Reading them yields benefits for parents and children alike. The storyteller-listener relationship strengthens the emotional bond between parent and child, while the fixed routine of a story before sleep can improve the child's brain development, language mastery, and logical thinking skills.
Bedtime stories inspire empathy with key characters, teaching the child sympathy, unselfishness, and self-control. Moreover, a child's tendency to imitate makes the parent and the stories they tell act a model for the child to follow.
Like all gems, the art and tradition of oral storytelling and the stories they produce can become lost if not gathered for posterity.
My Mother's Persian Stories is a bilingual collection of thirty bedtime stories as told by Saeid Shammass' mother as the family was growing up in Shiraz, Iran. Though they had few of the modern niceties that we now take for granted, Saeid tells us that these touching and gentle stories made him and his siblings feel like "the richest children in the world."
Wise and loving, some were based on ancient Persian mythology; some were humorous, and some were allusions to actual historical events.
Saeid's mother could not read or write. She remembered these stories by heart. Fearing that her stories would be lost forever, Saeid sat with his mother before she passed away, and asked her to retell them to him. Many years later, upon his retirement, he and his wife wrote them down in English, piecing the ones Saeid did not quite remember by asking his brothers and sisters.
Each sibling remembered different parts, or even the same parts in different ways. "We then knew that she told the stories in a different way to differently aged children," recall Shaunie and Saeid.
"My linguistic training made me realize that the stories had a different feel to them in English," continues Shaunie.
"You see, every language tells folk stories in its own way. My husband then started to write them in his native language, Persian/ Farsi. I thought it would be an interesting idea to write each story in both languages, to get the full flavor of how each one sounded in both English and Persian.
"Thus, the idea of a bilingual storybook was born."
The couple sat together for many hours, revising parts of each story to make it accessible in both languages, so that both western and eastern audiences could grasp and understand it as a folk tale. For instance, the opening line of the book - "Once upon a day and once upon a time under the purple dome of the sky" - is a combination of the Persian/ Farsi, "There was a day and an age under the purple dome," and the English, "Once upon a time."
In this sense, the English part is not a translation of the Persian/ Farsi, and the Persian/ Farsi part is not a translation of the English. Rather, it is a joint effort to convey the flair and nuances of both languages.
"The poems were particularly difficult to write in this way, since particular rhythms also had to be maintained," notes Shaunie.
"We were pleasantly surprised to find out that writing the stories bilingually made them richer and more vibrant in both languages."
Saeid also did the illustrations and cover-art painting, some of which he had envisioned in his mind's eye, as a child, while listening to his mother tell these stories. Most have Persian elements, such as a Persian carpet, or Persian motifs found in the ancient Persepolis ruins near Shiraz, or elements from classic Persian miniatures.
It is the authors' wish that parents will read these stories to their children, perhaps embellishing and changing them as they see fit, and deriving from them new tales of their own.