Nowruz around the world: Picture books celebrating the new year and coming of spring

Today is Nowruz, the first day of spring and the start of the new year in many cultures and countries across the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus. It’s also a holiday celebrated by many families and faiths worldwide, and today we look at a few books that give a taste of Nowruz celebrations and traditions…

Persian myths and legends

Nowruz is Iranian New Year and what better excuse than to dip into the rich treasures of Persian literature and mythology, to delve into storytelling traditions going back centuries?

The Lion Tattoo, retold and illustrated by Atefeh Maleki Joo

The first port of call for any exploration of Iranian children’s literature should surely be UK independent publisher Tiny Owl, whose picture books include new retellings of fables first penned by Rumi, a thirteenth century Farsi poet, philosopher and Sufi mystic. We particularly love The Lion Tattoo, retold and illustrated by award-winning Iranian illustrator, Atefeh Maleki Joo. Tiny Owl have four adaptations of these classic fables in their Tales by Rumi book bundle.

The Phoenix of Persia by Sally Pomme Clayton, illustrated by Amin Hassanzadeh Sharif (Tiny Owl, UK)

Another unmissable taste of ancient Persian storytelling is to be found in The Phoenix of Persia, the story of the Simorgh, a wise phoenix, who rescues the rejected Prince Zal and raises him alongside her own chicks. This mythical tale of family, forgiveness and what it means to be truly wise, is one of the many fables in the Shahnameh (the Book of Kings), an epic poem written in the 10th century by Persian poet Ferdowsi, considered the heart of Iranian literature. This book is accompanied by an original Iranian musical composition available to stream online, and Tiny Owl offers a classroom bundle of musical instruments and resources that schools can borrow to explore this story along with the accompanying music.

Picture books about Nawruz

But Nowruz is celebrated not only in Iran but across the Middle East and Central Asia, and in communities across the world. Here are a few picture books that explore the wealth of traditions associated with this celebration of the coming of spring.

Soraya’s Nowruz Dance by Anahita Tamaddon, translated by Soudabeh Ashrafi (bilingual Persian and English; independently published, USA, 2021)

When Soraya is entranced by a Nowruz dance performance, she wants to do the same! But learning the dance from her grandmother, Soraya realises that the dance is going to take a while to master. The celebrations of Nowruz come to an end on the 13th day, known in Farsi as Sizdah Bedar, when families go out for the day, for a picnic or a trip to the countryside. Will Soraya have her dance ready to perform at the Sizdah Bedar picnic? 

You can see a sneak peek of this lovely book over at Anahita Tamaddon’s instagram. Tamaddon is author of 5 bilingual Farsi-English picture books, including The Meaning of Nowruz.

Naw-Rúz in My Family, by Alhan Rahimi, illustrated by Bonnie Lemaire (independently published, Canada, 2021)

Out this month, this picture book shares the perspective of a Baháʼí family celebrating their New Year in spring. Naw-Rúz means “New Day” in Persian, but besides being Iranian New Year, it is also a special time of year for many people around the world in various cultures and religions. It is also New Year in the calendar of the Baháʼí faith, a religion practiced in over 200 countries. Author Alhan Rahimi is an Arabic-Persian-English translator and interpreter, and author of several picture books about the Baháʼí faith. This story places Naw-Rúz in the context of faith traditions but also the Persian tradition of the Haft Sin – a table laid with seven symbolic items representing spring and rebirth. And the obligatory goldfish!

Hooray! Hooray! Nowruz is here! / هورا! هورا! نوروز در راه است!

by Mojgan Roohani (bilingual English and Persian; independently published, 2020)

Bursting with enthusiasm, this story gives a cheerful glimpse into the preparations for the 13 days of festivities. We’re plunged right into the action with this Nowruz To Do List countdown:

10. Prepare Sabzeh (fresh green sprouts – a symbol of rejuvenation and new life; here’s how to grow them, though you needed to start 2 weeks ago!)

9. New plants for the garden

8. Spring clean the house

7. Shop for new clothes

6. To market for goldfish

5. Decorate eggs

4. Prepare the Haft Sin (the seven things beginning with ‘s’ on the Nowruz Sofreh – the New Year table)

3. Bonfire for Chaharshanbeh Suri

2. Cook Sabzi Polo Mahi, and finally…

1. Nawruz party and the start of thirteen days of fun!

The New Year’s Goldfish: A Nowruz Story, by Solmaz Parveen, illustrate by Tata Bobokhidze (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016)

Striking illustrations in a gorgeous palette of orange, turquoise and yellow accompany this charming story of Keyan who heads to the pet store with his dad to buy the family’s Nowruz goldfish. But this sneaky slithery fish escapes, taking Keyan on a wild fish chase through town. Georgian illustrator Tata Bobokhidze is definitely one to watch – you can see more of her and her sister Tika’s artwork on their instagram.

Why do goldfish feature in so many of these stories? Well, there are many essential items to have in the house for a Nowruz celebration, and one tradition is to watch the goldfish in its bowl at the precise moment of the vernal equinox – when day and night are equal length, and the official start of spring. If you want to know exactly when to celebrate, this website shows the precise time of day for the start of Nowruz at various locations around the world – the moment festivities can commence!

If you read Farsi…

There are five story books about Nawruz here. If you’re a translator from Farsi to English, please get in touch. Perhaps we can help find English publisher for one of these!

More about Nawruz

The Haft Sin is an arrangement of seven symbolic items spread out on the Nawruz table – you can see some examples in the video below. They might include sabzeh (sprouts), senjed (fruits from the lotus tree), sib (apple), samanu (what pudding), serkeh (vinegar), somaq (sumac, a spice), sir (garlic), sekkeh (coins), sonbol (hyacinths), sangak (flatbread) or a samovar for tea. The goldfish in three of the stories above doesn’t begin with ‘s’ but is still an important element!

We’d love to hear how you celebrate Nowruz in your family! And are there any books you love to share at this special time of year? Let us know on Twitter @worldkidlit or with hashtag #worldkidlit!