Freedom Bird by Jerdine Nolen, illustrated by James H. Ransome (9780689871672)
John and Millicent were slaves on a plantation in the south. The siblings’ parents were sold away from them, never to be seen again. But before they left, they made sure that their children knew about freedom, hoping that it would come in time for them. The two worked hard labor on the plantation from dawn to night. One day, a great black bird flew over the field only to be shot down and left for dead. The two children head out after dark to see if the bird survived and rescue it. But the next morning, John is hired away to another farm, likely to be gone for many months. Millicent continued to care for the bird, keeping it alive and quiet until John returned. Reunited, the two hear of plans to sell John away and decide to act and choose freedom.
The cruelties and horrors of slavery are front and center in this picture book. The dismantling and breaking of families, the threats and violence, the backbreaking work day after day. The addition of the bird adds a symbol of hope to the book, clearly offering it as a representation of freedom that must be looked after and tended. The text is dense for a picture book, but important as it explains slavery, freedom and the importance of seeing a better future.
Ransome’s illustrations are paintings that play with perspective, looking at the world from the bird’s perspective, seeing its shadow long before it appears, and glimpsing the two children entering the dark field to rescue the bird. One illustration in particular is powerful and dramatic with Meredith and the bird stretching arms and wings together.
A folktale look at freedom and the evils of slavery. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
Numenia and the Hurricane by Fiona Halliday (9781624149993)
Numenia was born in the Arctic with her two whimbrel sisters. At the autumn equinox, they faced a long migration from the far north all the way to the Caribbean along with thousands of other birds. On their journey they are hit by a hurricane, with winds and rain. Numenia is knocked off course, away from her sisters and the other birds. She finds herself tumbling into a city and landing on a windowsill. She rests there for awhile, but is drawn to fly south once again, only half the weight that she had started at. She flies alone until she gets farther south where she sees other birds and finds her sisters waiting for her.
Based on the true story of a whimbrel who was wearing a tracking device when she ran directly into a tropical storm. The device allowed scientists to see where she stopped to rest, how fast she went, and the impact of the storm on her long migration. She both battled the storm and then used the wind to her advantage and flew even faster with their help. Told in poetic lines, this picture book really explores the drama of the arduous migration that covers half the globe. From tiny chicks to quickly flying long distances, these birds are clearly heroes on our planet, their worlds larger than ours by far.
Halliday’s illustrations are dreamy, filled with downy chicks and feathery birds. She uses the natural settings to create moments of beauty, including the triumphant arrival in the south. The scenes in the city are hard and angular, adding to the drama of Numenia’s fall into the hardscape of the city away from nature.
A poetic and haunting look at migration. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Page Street Kids.
Fly! by Mark Teague (9781534451285)
Baby Bird has spent his time having worms delivered right to him in the nest by Mama Bird. So when Mama Bird coaxes him out onto the branch, he throws a bit of a fit. It’s a tantrum big enough to get him out of the nest finally, but it also makes him fall down down down to the ground. Mama Bird encourages him to try to fly back up, but Baby Bird has other ideas. Maybe Mama could carry him or perhaps a hot air balloon? Mama bird warns him that he won’t be able to come along when they migrate to Florida if he can’t fly. Baby Bird thinks that maybe a bike, skateboard, car or train might work even better than flying. Mama Bird next tried to scare baby into flying by talking about dogs, cats, and owls. Owls! Mama Bird may just have convinced her silly Baby Bird to take flight.
Teague’s wordless book is a joy. He cleverly uses speech balloons on the page but fills them with images so that children can “read” this themselves very easily. The conversations between mother and baby are clear and very funny. In particular, Baby Bird’s ideas and jokes will have little ones giggling along. The frustration of Mama Bird is also very clear on the page, her motherly glare is one that most children will recognize from personal experience. Full of great illustrations that tell a complete and compelling story.
A great wordless book that really takes flight. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.
Hummingbird by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Jane Ray (9781536205381)
In a grandmother’s garden in Central America, a granddaughter watches the zooming hummingbirds. The birds will soon be heading north for the summer to their nesting grounds. The tiny birds must cross the Gulf of Mexico, stopping for a bit of rest on boats along the way. They continue on, following the blooming flowers as they stretch northward. When they reach their nesting grounds, the male hummingbirds defend their nearby flowers. There, the same girl, now in New York City, finds an eggshell on the ground and realizes that she has seen both the beginning and end of the hummingbird’s migration.
Davies, a zoologist, beautifully frames the story of the hummingbird with one little girl’s own travels from Central America to her home in New York City. She makes sure that readers have plenty of facts about the hummingbird, from how light they are to what their diets need to how they nest and migrate. Davies has a real skill for sharing just enough facts with young readers and still telling a compelling story that is not derailed by too many factoids.
The illustrations by Ray are phenomenal. Her delicate lines are exactly the right format for these tiny birds. She captures the beauty of their feathers and their coloring. She also shows them in mid-air but still manages to convey their speed and dexterity.
A beautiful nonfiction picture book about an amazing tiny bird. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me by Susan L. Roth (9780823442829)
Collage artist Roth takes a look at the amazing bowerbird and how her work and their building process compare with one another. Both she and the bowerbird are collectors of random items. They use those items to create compositions. For the bowerbird, that is a bower for their courtship process. They both like unusual objects that they use to create art, things that no one else might ever combine in that way. They both pay attention to color and both seek out praise for their work in the end.
I was really pleasantly surprised by the content and construct of this picture book. While I knew it would be about bowerbirds and humans, I didn’t expect it to be so directly related to the artistic side of both. Roth beautifully shows the fascinating correlations between her work and that of the bird. She demonstrates both in her collage illustrations and in the text of the book how similar they actually are. The text though is kept wonderfully simple, making this book about art very accessible even for young children. She completes the book with more facts about the birds and about her own work as well as a bibliography of sources.
Roth’s illustrations are fabulous. Bright and filled with objects of all kinds, they fill the page with vibrancy. Most of the pages show the bird and then Roth, each working in a similar way on their art. The result is a book about Roth’s way of making art that is also an example of the art itself. Clever stuff!
A very successful mix of nature, science and art. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Hello, I’m Here! by Helen Frost, illustrated by Rick Lieder (9780763698584)
This book looks at a family of sandhill cranes as an egg hatches and a chick is born. The little hatchling is soon standing covered in dry fuzz next to their mother. As the day progresses, the chick discovers their brother who has already hatched. They go for a swim in the water and flee from snapping turtles back to the nest where they are now damp and muddy. They have a snack of an insect and a snail. Then they are tired enough for a rest next to their mother.
Frost writes invitingly brief rhyming couplets that accompany the brilliant photographs in this picture book. Her story emphasizes the gentle care of the parent cranes as well as the ability for the newly-hatched chicks to do a bit of exploring on their own. It’s a lovely mix of freedom and protection. The photographs echo that with their focus on the large cranes that dwarf their fuzzy offspring, the beauty of the natural setting, and the adorable pairing of the sibling baby cranes.
Another winner from Frost and Lieder, this one is just right for spring. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from Candlewick Press.
Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-McGinnis (9781547601004)
11-year-old December has moved from one foster family to another over the past several years. As she moves, she has learned not to have many possessions, enough that she can carry them in a couple of bags. One item she brings with her every move is her biography, a book that reminds her why she is special and different from those around her. With her large scar on her back, December believes that she was raised as partially a bird and will eventually have her wings and feathers and be able to take flight. But when she jumps from a tree, she is moved to another foster family. This time, she is taken in by Eleanor, a women with a large garden, bird feeders, bird baths, and who works in an animal rehabilitation center. Eleanor’s quiet and loving approach starts to work on December, much as it does on her wounded birds. As December starts to trust, her desire to be separate from humans and different from them ebbs away. But could she ever give up her desire to fly?
Stark-McGinnis has written a startling debut novel for middle graders. December’s belief that she is a bird is at first alarming as she jumps from a tree, then rather odd, but the author leads readers to deeply understand the injury and damage done to December by first her mother’s violence and then her foster parents. It is a slow and haunting journey as December begins to trust others. Tying her own personal journey to that of a wounded hawk relearning to fly, the book creates a path for December to come alive again.
The journey to trust also includes a wonderful secondary character, Cheryllynn, a transgender classmate of December’s. As both girls steadily learn to stand up to the class bullies, they also learn that doing it together is easier and has a bigger impact. The two girls accept one another exactly as they are, something one doesn’t see enough in books about young girls and their friendships.
A heart-wrenching novel of abuse, recovery and learning to fly. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.
Wings by Cheryl B. Klein, illustrated by Tomie dePaola (9781534405103)
This super-simple picture book soars as a baby bird leaves the nest for the first time. Told only in rhyming single words, the story is about wings, flings, stings, dings and eventually sings, rings and zings! A baby bird tentatively heads to the edge of the nest and then flings themselves off. They land in a puddle on the ground. Drying off and checking for damage, they discover a worm on the ground. That inspires them to try to head back up to the nest to deliver the food to their siblings. But can they actually fly?
The simplicity of the book belies the skill that it took to create an actual story arc with so few words. The book works well with the bulk of the tale told in the illustrations by a master artist. DePaola has created bright and cheery artwork to accompany the story. Filled with pinks, blues and yellows, the vibrant colors bring a lot of life to the book.
Use this one when teaching about rhymes. It is just right for toddler audiences. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Trevor by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Amy Hevron (9781250148285)
Trevor is a very lonely canary who knows that he can escape his cage at any time, but stays put for the seeds. He has one favorite kind, sunflower seeds, that he saves for when he is feeling loneliest. When Trevor sees a lemon outside of his window, he tries to get it to sing with him. He even gives it his last striped sunflower seed, but it won’t eat. The lemon doesn’t reply to Trevor at all and doesn’t give him any gifts in return. Still, Trevor builds a nest in the tree for himself and the lemon. Meanwhile, the seed has fallen to the ground below. Eventually, a storm comes and Trevor must try to save the lemon. When he reaches the ground, he discovers the sunflower has sprouted and grown, scattering seeds across the ground. When a group of hungry birds arrives, Trevor quickly realizes what real friendship feels like.
Averbeck keeps the text of this picture book very simple, making it just right for younger listeners and good to share aloud. The emotions that Trevor feels in the book take center stage, from frustration at the lemon to eventual forgiveness to acceptance about their differences. Trevor is a great mix of brave, inquisitive and friendly as he makes his way into the larger world.
Hevron’s illustrations are painted onto wood. She cleverly allows the wood to show through to create tree branches and leaf spines. Against the pale blue background, the leaves, lemon and Trevor himself pop. One can see the wood grain throughout the book, both covered in color and plain. It makes for a very organic and natural feel.
A lovely quiet picture book about new friends and what to do when life gives you lemons. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.