The Old Woman and the Eagle – Story Share

by | Jan 27, 2024 | StoryMaking

I love the story “The Old Woman and the Eagle”.  It is an Afghan tale that has been told orally for generations and, in more recent years, turned into a beautifully illustrated children’s book by Idries Shah and Natasha Delmar.

I have found that a quietness settles over children as this story unfolds. Children seem to identify with how the eagle experiences othering and nonacceptance of who he is. They also seem to recognize the eagle’s feeling of lightness and joy at the end of the story when he is appreciated for simply being himself.

When I share this story with kindergarten children, I often introduce the story with a nest. Together we look at the nest I have brought in and wonder what kind of nest it might be and what kind of bird might have made it. The size of the nest, the materials in the nest, and their prior experiences of seeing nests help us make some good guesses. I have pictures of some familiar birds that help all of us visualize the types of birds we are wondering about. Then I turn to the last second last page of the book we are about to read. It shows a large nest, larger than the robin’s nest or hummingbird nest I’ve brought to show them. In the background of this nest in the picture, two birds fly high in the sky – eagles! We look closely at a picture of an eagle and notice its hooked beak, sharp claws, and shape of head, marvelling at how each bird species we’ve thought about is different in some ways from one another.

Only then do we begin to read our story about an old woman who, because she has never seen an eagle before, believes the eagle to be a pigeon – a type of bird she confidently claims to know very well.

The story is not intended to turn into ‘the moral of the story is’ conversation. Rather the story is about letting the feelings and ideas around identity and acceptance settle into our bones. It is about making space for all of us to consider ways in which this story plays out every day in our lives, no matter how young or old, where we live, play, or work. It is about holding up hope that humans will shift a ‘you are different’ mindset to ‘you are intriguing’.

After reading the story I wanted to give the children an opportunity to wonder and appreciate the uniqueness of the eagle and birds in general. I invited the children to consider the complexity of how eagles and other birds build nests. They have no hands, fingers, or thumbs, and yet they weave strands of grass, straw, twigs and other found materials intricately into soft beds for their eggs, sometimes even gluing and strengthening them with mud. How are birds able to build such perfect cradles for their babies?

I prepared a table with pine boughs, a bucket of dry pine needles, some paper packing ‘straw’, and a few feathers, and invited the children to build nests on the pine branches.

The work was hard and sometimes frustrating, but clearly it was also joyful for the children who tried to emulate birds building a safe home for their babies; who tried to relate to the very different life and world of another creature.