Rumi, The Lion Tattoo, illustrated by Afteh Maleaki Joo

Tiny Owl, 2017, ISBN 978-1-91032-828-6

A stylish and self-assured young man decides he needs a tattoo, a tattoo of a lion. He presents the tattoo artist with a picture and she sets to work on his shoulder. But before long he's in terrible pain. Asking her what she's doing, he declares that his lion doesn't need a tail. Soon he tells her that his lion doesn't need a mane either. In his mind he sees himself hiding behind a tree, a lion's mane around his shoulders, staring out at a tail-less, mane-less lion. Everyone in the tattoo parlour watches as he howls out in agony that his lion doesn't need a stomach. He is kicked down the stairs, the tattooist's words ringing out: 'Brother, you just can't stand the pain.' At the foot of the stairs, a couple gaze transfixed as an animal ascends. The tale-less, mane-less lion eyes itself in a mirror. On its shoulder, a tattoo. A tattoo of the young man grimacing in pain.

A contemporary story, it might seem. A cautionary tale for our times. Only it's not, not at all. It is a simplified re-telling of a fable by the poet, philosopher and Sufi mystic Rumi, written in the thirteenth century. In contrast, the very distinctive, stylised illustrations, by award-winning Iranian illustrator Afteh Maleaki Joo, are very much of now. And they provide an extra dimension to the story. It is the illustrator's imagination that brings us the young man's vision of the tail-less, mane-less lion, and her sense of humour that lies behind the telling last picture of that lion with its tattoo. This clever, witty picture book is for teenagers and adults. I fear though that its small size (just 150 mm by 150 mm) and purple cloth cover may reduce its potential appeal to young people.