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Zahara's Rose

Libby Hathorn
Illustrated by Doris Unger

What will happen when Zahara reaches the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and tries to see the Queen? With a cart full of plants and the straggly weed her father calls The Flower of Heaven, she and her mother and grandmother pass through the Ishtar Gates on the way to the marvellous Hanging Gardens, built by King Nebuchadnezzar for his Queen, Amyritis. But a guard refuses entry for Zahara and laughs at the Flower of Heaven...

Libby Hathorn has told a gentle, celebratory tale, illuminated by the evocative illustrations of Doris Unger.

ISBN 9781921479236 HB
Junior Picture Book, 37pp

AU$26 (HB) NZ$28 (HB)

US$18 (PB)

UK£12 (PB) EU€14 (PB)
ISBN 9781921479519 eBk AU$10 US$8 NZ$13 UK£6 EU€7

Zahara's Rose tells the story of how Zahara gets herself the most important job in all of Babylonia. Along with her mother and her grandmother, Zahara travels on an oxcart to deliver plants, grown by her father, to the Queen of Babylonia, Queen Amyritis. Before they leave on their journey Zahara's father hands her a weedy looking plant with one small tight bud, and tells her that the flower is the Most Beautiful Under the Sun. Everybody finds this hard to believe but still they take the flower with them. When the
three arrive at the Palace the guard refuses to let Zahara into the garden because she is dirty and walks with a stick and so Zahara is made to wait outside. Grandmother, however has other ideas. Disguised in a veil, she ushers Zahara into the gardens. Once inside, Zahara recognises her grandmother's feet and together they enter the Hanging Gardens. Grandmother shows Zahara where she has hidden the weedy plant but to their surprise they see that the bud has burst into bloom. The scent is overwhelming and Grandmother hands the plant to Zahara to present to the Queen. Naturally the Queen is delighted and she asks Zahara to go home with her family to grow many more and to bring the best ones to her. The rhythm of the old cart on
the ride home fills Zahara with dreams of the most gorgeous rose garden and how she, Zahara, would be the one to help plant the very first rose in the
Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Zahara's Rose is a gentle story told in picture book format, divided into 6 chapters, ideal for the more confident reader or to be read aloud. A number of spreads are textless allowing Doris Unger the freedom to fully illustrate parts of the story to encourage the reader to immerse themselves into the culture, the time and the setting.

What I loved about Zahara's Rose was the reminder that, something now so common to us, must have seemed exquisite when first discovered. Libby describes the perfume as the perfume of paradise, honey, musk, cinnamon. Only sweeter. The Flower of Heaven. And yet, now we take this flower for granted. Let's hope, that when our children of today hear Zahara's story, they will remember to stop and smell the roses.

– Jackie Hosking, Pass It On

With the Hanging Gardens of Babylon as a backdrop, this is a simple yet delightful story of a young girl named Zahara, and the beautiful rose introduced by her father into the exotic Gardens that overlook the Euphrates River.

Zahara’s father is a renowned gardener. He has been trying for a long time to grow a scrappy cutting of what is later to be called the Flower of Heaven. It is for Queen Amyritis of Babylonia to add to her garden which is the most beautiful in the whole world. King Nebuchadnezzar had it recreated for her to remind her of home after he brought her to Babylon as a bride.

The family sets out for Babylon in the ox cart with the fragile flower amidst a collection of other plants and herbs for the Queen’s garden. Grandma has little hope of the flower’s survival. She considers its weakness unworthy of a Queen. Father knows his plants and has high hopes for its propagation.

Zahara is impatient to view the Ishtar Gates, named after the Goddess of Love and War and the Gardens hanging in the sky. At first their dusty and untidy appearance puts the guards on the defensive. But the Queen welcomes them, particularly Zahara, whom the Queen later requests to remain and become her Official Petal Counter. But as delighted as Zahara is by the compliment, she is unable to be separated from her family.

Meanwhile, the heat and moisture of the gardens strengthen the weak plant. The blood-red buds begin to bloom into the most beautiful and fragrant flowers. This is the beginning of the most exquisite rose garden ever seen.

The excellent illustrations are a mixture of soft and vivid watercolours. Varying shades of blue dominate the pages with the mosaics, the tiling, houses and statues, sky and clothing, reflecting the calm, soothing atmosphere of the ancient gardens, the palace and surroundings. Elsewhere, soft, light colours alternate with vibrant reds and earthy shades in accompanying the text. On the fly pages a detailed map of the Mediterranean area sits in between borders of blue and brown in union with the decorated borders on quite a few pages within the book.

– Anastasia Gonis, Buzz Words


The setting for this beautifully illustrated book is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon that overlook the Euphrates River, created by King Nebuchadnezzar for his new bride, Queen Amyritis, to alleviate any longing for her homeland, Persia. This delicate story on the birth of beauty is illustrated in both soft and vibrant watercolour, with pages and cover framed in attractive borders.

Zahara’s father, a gifted gardener, has been trying to grow a special rose from a scrappy cutting; a plant that he’d brought home with him from his travels. But with all his nurturing, the result is a single tight bud on a scraggly stem. He refuses to give up on it and hopes to propagate the plant and grow many more. Grandmother has her doubts.

The Queen has requested to see their renowned plants and herbs. The family set out on their ox cart with the scraggly plant amongst their collection towards the Ishtar Gates, named after the Goddess of Love and War, and to the most beautiful gardens in the world that hang in the sky.

The guard initially does not allow Zahara to go past the first terrace because of her walking stick which he fears will prod and poke the fragile ground that breathes life into the delicate flowers. But Grandmother creeps back disguised, and brings the girl into the garden while her mother talks to the Queen on another terrace. Zahara is fascinated by the waterfalls, ponds, and exotic flowers growing in the moist atmosphere. Grandmother has hidden the weak-looking flower amongst the other plants, ashamed to show it to the Queen.

But to her amazement, within the perfect environment for growth, the blood red bud opens to release a beguiling fragrance. They set out in haste to present it to the Queen.

Queen Amyritis, bewitched by the fragrance and beauty of the rose, invites Zahara to be her Official Petal Counter. But to distance herself from her family is unthinkable to Zahara. She settles on a promise to help grow more of the roses, now known as the Flower of Heaven.

– Anastasia Gonis, The Reading Stack

This historically-based story is set in the area once called Babylon, but is now Iraq. Clever end papers display coloured maps of the Middle East as it was when the story is set and now. The story is about Zahara's journey with her family to the palace of Babylon in order to deliver plants, including a very special Flower of Heaven plant (the rose) to the Queen of Babylon. It is Zahara's first journey there and she is eager to see the famous hanging gardens. However she is stopped from entering the wondrous garden by a palace guard, it seems her dream of seeing such a site may not come true.

The warm relationship between grandchild and grandparent provides as welcome an anchor for young readers visiting an unknown land and culture as it does for Zahara.

While there are a couple of continuity lapses in the illustrations, these don't detract from a book that is richly illustrated in warm tones. It is a pleasure to read.

– Sharon Greenaway, Magpies

In the faraway land of Babylon we step into the lives of a simple family who trade in plants. Zahara’s Rose is the story of a little girl who travels to the royal Hanging Gardens with her mother and grandmother to sell their wares, bringing with them an ordinary little plant that her father insists is a flower from heaven. Upon arrival after a bumpy cart ride, Zahara is not permitted to enter due to her disability; she has a cane to walk. Will Zahara be able to see the wondrous hidden garden or give the queen her rose which has shown its splendid beauty?

An appealing story which touches the heart, Libby Hathorn’s Zahara’s Rose is sweet and real and awakens you to a different kind of life where things are simpler but social issues are the same. The three generations of women travelling together is a nice touch for me, and the incorporation of physical prejudices makes it a good book for children who experience them, as well as others who are learning about accepting diversity in all forms. It has a happy ending thanks to her Grandmother being a bit swift and cheeky.

With descriptive scenes and visually suited illustrations by Doris Unger, the desert environment of Babylon and the hanging gardens of Zahara’s Rose become a trip to another land.

– Angela Hall, Bug in a Book


At the launch of Zahara's Rose in Bourke, New South Wales, Aug '09

(left to right: Mayor Andrew Lewis, Libby, Jodi Hatch)

Click on the photo to see the slideshow!





Libby Hathorn is an award winning author of more than 50 books for children. Her stories have been translated and adapted to stage and screen.

Her best-selling novel Thunderwith has been adapted into a movie by Hallmark Hall of Fame, starring Judy Davies; and her recent historical novel Georgiana: Woman of Flowers into a stage play. Her most recent novel is Fire Song.

Libby lectures part-time at Sydney University and travels widely in her role as Australia Day Ambassador, and for her current project 100 Views, a celebration of the arts in small communities. Her recent documentary 100 Views
is screening on community channels in


Doris U

Doris Unger

Doris Unger has a background in Fine Art, Animation and Graphic Design.

She lived in Melbourne for many years where she studied Animation and Electronic Design, also working in commercial and series animation. She was involved in creating acres of murals in the Royal Children’s Hospital and regularly exhibited
her own paintings in galleries.

Doris grew up on a rich diet of European fairy tales and especially loved the pictures. When she was older Medieval illuminated manuscripts fascinated her, in particular the colours and the ‘doodles’ in the margins.

Having European parents who were both born and raised in the Middle East, Doris was drawn to the amazing imagery and story in Zahara’s Rose and felt a personal link as her own father is a passionate gardener.

Doris currently lives in northern New South Wales where she is working on her own illustrated stories.




Teachers' Guide (free download)

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