The Conference of the Birds by Peter Sis

The Conference of the Birds by Peter Sis, an acclaimed children’s author and illustrator, has taken his skills to a 12th century Sufi epic poem of the same name written by Farid ud-Din Attar, who was not only a poet but a mystic.  Often these types of poems have a hidden spiritual meaning, and Sis deftly captures the essence of Attar’s poem with illustration.

In this illustrated version of the epic poem, the pictures speak for the poet, Attar who wakes from a dream to realize he’s a hoopoe bird.  Once he transforms, he calls all of the birds of the world together to find their true king, Simorgh, by flying through the seven valleys — The Valley Of Quest, The Valley Of Love, The Valley Of Understanding, The Valley Of Detachment, The Valley Of Unity, The Valley Of Amazement, and The Valley Of Death — to reach Mountain Kaf.

In the beginning, the transformation of Attar is shown much like animated cartoons would have been created, with the flipping of each panel where each image has slight differences to create the illusion of movement.  Once the birds agree to take the journey, it is clear that it will take them through a number of valleys that will test their resolve, with each bird’s skills and weaknesses hammered by adversity and uncertainty.  Sis creates vivid birds of various colors and species.  Even if the pages of this book were not textured, readers could see the feathers and layers on these birds.

And there are many layers to these birds, their feathers, and their story.  The poem sheds light on the inner spiritual journey each of us travels, the trials that we face, and the perseverance it takes to stay on course and believe in ourselves.  For some the journey is too hard, and they turn back, but for others, it is important enough to move onward despite the risks and sorrow.  Like the poem, The Conference of the Birds by Peter Sis is multilayered, with great attention to detail from the feathers on the birds, the birds making up the larger birds, and the trees that create the mountains.  A gem of a book from an illustrator and writer who sees beyond just the words to the world it creates and the messages it brings.  Likely to be on the best of list for the year.

As an aside, I read this a couple of times carefully and with my infant daughter. She loved feeling the pages and looking at the vivid imagery, and I can tell you that keeping her attention for an entire book is difficult. This is great for kids and adults. Sis has created something of lasting beauty.

About the Author:

Born in Brno, in the former Czechoslovakia, in 1949, Peter Sís is an internationally acclaimed illustrator, author, and filmmaker. Most recently, in 2007, he published The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, which was awarded the Robert F. Sibert Medal and was also named a Caldecott Honor Book. Peter Sís was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2003. He is the author of twenty children’s books and a seven-time winner of the The New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book of the Year.  Please check out his Web page.

Please check out this video interview from BEA:

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Sis pays homage to traditional Islamic art and its figurative representations and geometric patterns as the valleys are depicted as a series of mazes.  (Seriously, read that review, it is stunning).


If you’d like to check out the rest of the tour, please click on the TLC Book Tour icon at the right.



This is my 29th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.


This is my 66th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.


  1. Being able to keep an infant’s attention is really difficult! The images you featured are gorgeous. Seems like a good Christmas gift for a family.

  2. Ooh yay! I really hoped that you would like this book – it seemed like the perfect fit for you. I’m so glad I was right!

    Thanks for being on the tour Serena. I’m featuring your review on TLC’s Facebook page today.

    • I think its gorgeous. There isn’t much to the poem, but I think you get most of the gist from the illustrations. I’d like to compare it to the original epic poem.

  3. That illustration is just lovely. I remember being interested in his book on Tibet. Me being 50% Tibetan and all!

  4. Beth Hoffman says

    I’m totally fascinated with the book and with Peter too. I so enjoyed the video!

  5. This looks fantastic. Glad you and Wiggles loved it. You’ll have to show it to me when I see you this weekend.

    • It’s supposed to be an adult book, but I think kids would like it. I know she did because she actually paid attention for the most part when I read it to her.

  6. The book looks absolutely beautiful. Wow. Thanks for sharing the interview — I feel as if I got to know him a bit.

  7. The book does look gorgeous!

    • It is gorgeous. If I had an image of every page I would show you all online, but that would defeat the purpose of you buying it yourselves.