Elsie’s Bird by Jane Yolen, illustrated by David Small
Elsie had lived in Boston all of her life. She loved its curving streets, the horses hooves clopping on the roads, and she loved the birds that sing. She even sang their songs back to them. But after her mother died, her father decided to head west to Nebraska. The two of them took a train out west, accompanied by Elsie’s new canary named Timmy Tune. When they reached Nebraska with its wide open prairie and silence, Elsie was overwhelmed by the vastness around her. She stayed in their sod house, only Timmy Tune bringing a smile to her face. Then one day when her father was gone, she accidentally left Timmy Tune’s cage door open and he escaped outside. Now Elsie had to decide whether to stay safe indoors or entre the overwhelming prairie to save her friend.
Yolen’s verse here is exceptional. She captures Elsie’s feelings honestly, managing even in the format of a picture book to show Elsie’s perspective rather than tell it. When Elsie discovers the beauty of the prairie for herself, the words descriptions of the noises she hears are crystalline and wondrous. Yolen’s use of the lack of sound to impart the way that Elsie is overwhelmed is very well done. Readers themselves will hear the sudden clamor of sounds as she realizes that the prairie is far from empty.
Small’s watercolor illustrations are filled with movement, whether it is a moving train or blowing blades of grass. He captures the wind, the vastness of the prairie and the mood in each illustration. As Elsie enters the prairie, the images of the tall blades of grass that threaten her safe return are dark, tangled and mysterious. Then when she realizes the beauty of the prairie, the sky opens wide and bright and the grass is bedecked in blooms. His illustrations are truly married to the story, managing to capture in pictures what Yolen has written with sounds.
Highly recommended, this is a book that has great historical interest and a superb story line. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
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