Under The Great Plum Tree by Sufiya Ahmed


Values: Friendship, Courage, Loyalty, Kindness...


This is a stunning book and one that I have coveted for a long time. Finally this week, I treated myself! This book comes from the Panchatantra - a collection of animal-themed fables from ancient India (originally written in Sanskrit) - the stories allegedly dating back more than 2000 years! What a great hook into this book before you've even opened it!


Spoiler alert!

The story is a tale of friendship between a monkey, Miss Bandari, and a crocodile, Mr Magarmach. Miss Bandari has a golden heart in the tale, and the whole jungle can see her kindness. One day, Mr Magarmarch lies beneath the plum tree, where Miss Bandari is, and complains of his tiredness and hunger. She begins feeding him plums from the tree and he begins telling her exciting stories from his past. This happens every day and the two become great friends. Eventually, Mr Magarmarch wants to repay Miss Bandari for her kindness and he invites her to his home for lunch; the two head off down the river. Suddenly, Dame Hati, the glamorous elephant, spots the two and warns that if they continue into the swamp, King Crocodile will eat them!

Together, Dame Hati and Miss Bandari persuade Mr Magarmarch to head back to the tree where Mr Magarmarch admits that the King Crocodile did want to meet Miss Bandari to see her golden heart. Miss Bandari exclaims that he is silly and not a true friend as he had endangered her. Sadly, he heads back to the swamp.

When he is there, he realises his error - King Crocodile had wanted to eat Miss Bandari! Using all of his courage, he tells King Crocodile he will not bring his friend to the swamp only to be eaten. As a result, he is forced out of his home... but Mr Magarmarch knows that loyalty and friendship is more important and leaves. Miss Bandari and Mr Magarmarch become lifelong friends. Their favourite story is the one where Mr Magarmarch stood up to King Crocodile...


This is a lovely story of friendship and loyalty. It is unlikely in the beginning that a monkey and a crocodile will become friends, but they both bring each other joy. It would be great to discuss 'unlikely' friendships in other books that children know and to ask them what being a friend means. I find children often assume friends have to be the same age, and it might be interesting to look at the adjectives to describe Mr Magarmarch and Miss Bandari as we can infer they are different ages by the way they move and the way they tell stories. It is also worth discussing with children how the two crocodiles might have naturally been assumed to be friends, but this isn't the case. In the end, Mr Magarmarch understands that loyalty to his friend is more important than material things (his home in the swamp); and Miss Bandari also forgives him for endangering her and being gullible. Looking at the characters' body language, there are lots of good examples of how friends behave - eye contact, smiling, laughing. Lots of conversations that open up rich discussions of friendship here!


Secondly, I would discuss the Value of courage. Mr Magarmarch has to stand up to King Crocodile even though he is angry and powerful. This isn't easy as he stands to lose his home over it, but he knows the right thing to do. You could easily talk to children about doing the 'easy thing or the right thing' as there is a very clear example of this shown here. Another example of courage is when Miss Bandari travels down the river on Mr Magarmarch's back - why might this be courageous? Would you travel on his back if you were Miss Bandari? What have you done that is brave?

Incidentally, this reminds me of the BBC Class Clip for KS1 and KS2: Am I always responsible for my actions? Worth checking out as a link!


Lastly, I think the Value of kindness shines through. Miss Bandari treats Mr Magarmarch kindly when he is tired and hungry; Mr Magarmarch tells her stories in return. Dame Hati is also kind in watching out for the animals and warns them of King Crocodile's intentions. Furthermore, we see kindness at the end of the story with Mr Magarmarch and Miss Bandari living in harmony under the great plum tree.


There are lots of other Values you or your class/children may spot including: community, positivity, trust, confidence, empathy and love... See what you can find!


I adore the illustrations in this vibrant and imaginative story that pays homage to its Indian roots. Reza Dalvand uses Indo-Persian influences to bring the story to life and the way he shows the animals' personalities through their clothes is very special. The endpapers also explain that the way he uses patterning and designs from various parts of the world mean that they can 'talk' to people from all walks of life, and I love this inclusive attitude. Worth discussing with the children!


Sufiya Ahmed also brings a rich sense of culture and heritage to this book, as she wrote it after listening to her mother's tales about the Indian jungle. I wonder which stories children would write based on stories they have heard at home? The words Ahmed uses are also descriptive and vibrant, enabling all children to picture the story to an even richer level. I would use this book with children from Year 2 upwards.


Buy your own copy from Blackwell's or directly from Tiny Owl Publishing. You can follow them on Twitter or Instagram too: @TinyOwl_Books! You can also find the author on Twitter: @sufiyaahmed and the illustrator on Instagram: @_rezadalvand_


This book is also longlisted for the 3-6 years category for The UKLA Book Awards 2021. A great pick for the shortlist in my opinion!


You can find other books with the same Values by clicking on these links:

#friendship

#courage

#loyalty

#kindness