The Earth Shook: A Persian Tale

The Earth Shook: A Persian Tale

by Donna Jo Napoli, Gabi Swiatkowska

Little Parisa-Farsi for "like an angel"-goes to bed one night only to be shaken from sleep by an earthquake that rocks her home of Bam, Iran. Frightened and alone-the earthquake has left her town deserted-Parisa knocks on the doors of various animals, only to be rebuffed again and again. Boar accuses her of being a hunter; Owl blames her for taking his food and…  See more details below


Little Parisa-Farsi for "like an angel"-goes to bed one night only to be shaken from sleep by an earthquake that rocks her home of Bam, Iran. Frightened and alone-the earthquake has left her town deserted-Parisa knocks on the doors of various animals, only to be rebuffed again and again. Boar accuses her of being a hunter; Owl blames her for taking his food and leaving him hungry. Lion just gives a ferocious roar. Left with nothing but her resolve, Parisa turns to the most natural of human instincts: She walked as a human child under the sun. She dances. She laughs. She waters neglected flowers. She shares. And one by one, her generous spirit inspires the animals around her to put aside their differences and revel in the simple delights that unite them.

Donna Jo Napoli's accomplished storytelling is beautifully complemented by Gabi Swiatkowska's dramatic oil paintings to celebrate the courage and fortitude of the human spirit.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Napoli (Ready to Dream) reworks folktale elements into a new and startling whole. After an earthquake, dark-haired Parisa is her town's lone survivor. Only menacing animals—Boar, Snapping Turtle, Bear, Owl, Snake, Wolf and Lion—remain. When she approaches them, they threaten her (Boar says her hands remind him of a hunter: “Run, or I'll gore a hole through you”). Swiatkowska's (My Name Is Yoon) oil paintings give these nightmarish scenes a luxurious richness, using thick brushstrokes, vivid forms and milky, dreamlike colors. At first, Parisa conforms to the animals' wishes, covering the parts of her body they object to. But she soon resolves to “just be with myself. And do what humans do.” She grows things, dances, laughs and cooks, and when she does, the animals come to her freely. Although it could be read as a defense of the special position of humans, Parisa's story is better understood as a statement about the courage to be true to oneself, and the way the world aligns itself with those who do. While the story contains some frightening images, the questions it poses are important. Ages 4–8. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
Opening on a spread that features a child going to sleep with a gentle parental voice for text, this dramatic story quickly shifts to the devastation of an earthquake that leaves the young girl wandering on her own. Parisa, whose name, we are told in an author's note, means "like an angel" in Farsi, "slipped outside like a frightened whisper." In her search for companionship, she meets only wild animals, and they drive her away. At first she tries to cover her body, to veil her eyes, to become safe in effect by becoming both unseeing and invisible. Then she decides she will just be "and do what humans do." Donna Jo Napoli's simple, lyrical text leaves ample room for Swiatkowska's swirling, luscious oil paintings. Juxtaposed pinks and blues come vividly alive in this beautiful story, and the animals, at first nightmarishly echoing the flat decorations on the child's quilt, are changed yet again by the child's intentional placement of herself in the world. The author's note mentions the 2003 earthquake that struck the Iranian town of Bam, an event that serves as context for the cultural and poetic grounding of this fictional work. The Earth Shook is a transformative tale that raises the question of what makes us truly human. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
School Library Journal
Gr 2–4—Napoli spins a strange and troubling story of a lone child left to survive in a world of wild animals. As Parisa (Farsi for "Like an Angel") is sleeping in her bed, the earth shakes and homes collapse. "No one was left within the town walls except Parisa" and she slips "…outside like a frightened whisper." Each day, the girl knocks on a door that is answered by an animal: Boar on Saturday, Snapping Turtle on Sunday, then Bear, Owl, Snake, Wolf, and Lion. Having been harmed in some way by either human or beast, each creature sends the child away with a threat. Referring to the animals as "monsters," the resilient girl decides to "do what humans do." She exhibits kindness, thankfulness, and laughter, and several animals join in. According to an author's note, the inspiration for the story came from a 2003 earthquake that killed half the population in the city of Bam, Iran, and orphaned many children. A number of Swiatkowska's impressionistic oil paintings feature striking, larger-than-life close-ups of Parisa's face, legs, and body; of Snapping Turtle and Bear, Owl and Lion. With the paint layered color upon color, the artist's boldly stroked style is even looser and more imaginative than that employed in Helen Recorvits's Yoon and the Jade Bracelet (Farrar, 2008). Artistry aside, the jarring tale ends abruptly, leaving disturbing thoughts in its wake.—Susan Scheps, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH
Kirkus Reviews
Human beings are so often vilified-justifiably-that it's refreshing to find a story that juxtaposes our species' finer qualities with its more monstrous ones. In this Persian-inspired tale (based on a 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran), Parisa desperately seeks the company of another human being when her village is destroyed. She knocks on door after door, but hostile animals now occupy any still-standing homes. Boar says, "Hands like grasping vines, you remind me of a hunter who threw spears at me. See these tusks? Run, or I'll gore a hole through you." Parisa contemplates her maligned hand, as a hunting scene hovers over Boar's head, petroglyph-like. From Bear to Snake, the animals shame her into masking her offending parts. Eventually, however, Parisa casts off her disguises to walk "as a human child under the sun," laughing, dancing and sharing with her now-benevolent animal friends. Swiatkowska's extraordinary artwork-textured oil paintings, decorative designs, splendid palette and artfully spare compositions-adds power and beauty to the poetic text that echoes Rumi. A gorgeous, discussion-provoking read-aloud. (author's note, acknowledgments) (Picture book. 5-8)

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Product Details

Disney Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
10.26(w) x 10.90(h) x 0.37(d)
AD450L (what's this?)
Age Range:
5 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Donna Jo Napoli teaches linguistics at Swarthmore College and is the author of several novels for middle graders and young adults, including Zel, an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, a Publishers Weekly Best Book, a Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book, and a School Library Journal Best Book; The Magic Circle, an ALA Best Book for Young Readers; and The Prince of the Pond: Otherwise Known as De Fawg Pin. Her most recent books for Hyperion include Ugly and Mogo, the Third Warthog.

Gabi Swiatkowska has illustrated several acclaimed picture books, including My Name Is Yoon by Helen Recorvits, for which she received the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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