A painting depicting a bird adorned with vibrant feathers, inspired by Shahnameh and Iran's rich cultural heritage.

The Shahnameh Box: Discover Iran’s culture, stories and skills

SLS UKCross-curriculum

Subject: Reading to discover worlds

Topic: Cross-curriculum Iranian adventure

Age Group: KS1 and KS2

Synopsis: Iran is bursting with stories – stories you can use to explore the history, geography and music of the country as well as add a global slant to maths, literacy and science topics says Gillian Harris from SLS Tower Hamlets who recommends the Shahnameh Box

Gillian Harris

Gillian Harris, MBE
Tower Hamlets SLS

Librarian’s view:

The Shahnameh is a collection of myths written by the 10th Century Iranian poet, Ferdowsi, and The Phoenix of Persia retold by Sally Pomme Clayton is one of those stories.  It tells the story of newborn Prince Zal, whose father banishes him to the forest because of his white hair, where he is adopted and cared for by the wise and benevolent phoenix, Simorgh.

The “Shahnameh Box” was created by the publishers, Tiny Owl, to enable you to expand this story and discover more about the background.  The box contains a range of artefacts, musical instruments, another Shahnameh story and a detailed teacher’s resource book written by Lisa Taner, giving you a wealth of ideas for activities.

First, you can immerse your class in the wonder of the story, find out about the poet, discover oral storytelling traditions, discuss the characters and how they feel, create a classroom performance of the story, and find out what happened next by exploring other stories of the Shahnameh

And then go on to explore all these other curriculum links.


Use a map to locate the setting for this story.  The storyteller is in Daneshjoo Park in Tehran – can your children find this on Google Earth?  The children listening to the storyteller have bought sweet mulberries to snack on whilst they listen. What other Iranian foods can your children find out about?  Use the information book I is for Iran to find out how wonderfully diverse Iran is, from hot, dry deserts to snowy ski resorts; from big cities to vast rural areas.

Ancient Civilisations: Sumerians are credited with developing the first writing – use the chart to write in Cuneiform.  You could even try writing on a tablet of clay for complete authenticity.

Many Iranian stories are told with musical accompaniment.  A ney (flute) and a frame drum are included in the box.  With these and the online soundtrack, see how musical instruments represent the different characters in the story. Can your children create their own musical improvisation to the other story in the box – Bijan and Manije?

Diversity and cultural understanding:
Prince Zal was born with white hair, and was probably albino. He was abandoned because he looked different.  Use this to initiate discussion about the needs and rights of others, and to find out more about albinism using the links provided.

Examine and design your own Islamic geometric pattern, create your own simorgh, then draw the story on a parde – a large canvas that travelling storytellers used to illustrate their stories.

You can even investigate traditional group exercises performed by Iranian athletes for a PE lesson.