review of picture book How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham

How to Heal a Broken Wing

by Bob Graham
Candlewick (Aug 2008)
ISBN-10: 0763639036, ISBN-13: 978-0763639037
Ages: 4-8 (and up)

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

High above the city, no one heard the s oft thud of feathers against glass.
No one saw the bird fall.
No one looked down…
except Will.

How to Heal a Broken Wing, Bob Graham, p. 1-8.

I love books that bring a sense of hope and bring good feeling.
How to Heal a Broken Wing does this beautifully.

A bird hits a building and falls to the ground, its wing breaking, and no one sees it or notices it–until a young boy does. He picks the bird up and takes it home, caring for it tenderly and patiently. Over time, the bird’s wing heals, and eventually when the boy sets the bird free, the bird flies away, well once more.How to Heal a Broken Wing reminds readers that kindness and empathy can make a difference, that taking action is important, and that sometimes it’s important to take the time and energy over something that others ignore. This is a book that promotes kindness and is full of hope.

Graham’s (, Max) story text is brief, without unnecessary detail, and has a good story voice. Graham’s text immediately evokes emotion, pulling at heart strings and engaging the reader with the opening text–that no one heard the soft thud of feathers against glass. It’s a powerful opening. Anyone who’s ever been hurt and ignored will be able to relate to it. Graham repeats “no one” twice (heard, saw, looked down) which increases the emotional power, and can bring a potential loneliness or sense of sadness–until the next sentence, when a boy sees and rescues the bird. The reader is given instant relief and lightness, and it works beautifully.

The story text moves from the specific (the boy, Will, seeing the bird with the broken wing), to the more general, the general text reading as a metaphor as well as being specific to the story: “A loose feather can’t be put back…but a broken wing can sometimes heal.” This can easily be taken to mean that a wounded spirit–or a wounded nation–can heal. It’s a powerful message, and an important one. Graham includes wise advice that readers can take for themselves–that to heal, the bird (or the reader) needs rest, time, and a little hope to heal. And the metaphor of flying once again after having been broken is also incredibly powerful. These metaphors and wisdom will, I think, give the book a wide readership, speaking to what each reader needs.

Graham’s illustrations and text work together beautifully, seamlessly, the illustrations showing us things the text doesn’t, sometimes complementing the text, sometimes standing in for the text.

Will, the boy in the illustrations, stands out sharply from the gloomy grey of everything and everyone else with his bright red jacket and blue pants, and his not being in a grey wash like everything else, or in dull drab colors that the other people wear. This brings visual attention and interest to the boy. And when the boy leans down to help the bird, a soft yellow light surrounds him and the bird, bringing even greater visual focus, and bringing a sense of goodness, of rightness, of bringing the first bright light in the gloom through his actions, lighting up the day. This is symbolic, and works well on many levels. The color brightens, the grey wash leaving, after the boy brings the bird home–working, again, on an emotional as well as visual level.

Graham’s pen, watercolor, and chalk illustrations are strong and evocative. They have an almost comic-book feel, with sometimes multiple panes of illustrations per page or spread showing a sequence of events, and dots for characters’ eyes. The illustrations vary in size and number on the spreads, keeping visual interest, and there is always a lot to look at.

The illustrations show us events and scenes that aren’t in the text, and that greatly add to the story, such as that Will’s parents are initially flustered by him bringing the bird home, but ultimately encouraging and accepting. And they show the boy’s and his parents’ tenderness and gentle care–how carefully the bird is wrapped to prevent further injury and carried; how the bird is fed water through an eye dropper; how they lay newspaper in a box with holes for the bird; and how, when the bird starts to get better, they try to encourage it to fly, and show it other birds through the window. Readers will enjoy poring over the illustrations, seeing everything that happens that isn’t in the text, and looking at all the details in the illustrations.

Graham uses light and dark to underscore mood and emotional tone. Light on the boy’s and parents’ faces and the bird bring a sense of hope. Graham also visually shows us the movement of time with the moon’s cycles. This worked very well for me, though some children might need an explanation.

How to Heal a Broken Wing is an uplifting, feel good book, one you’ll want to share with many people. Give this book to anyone who needs a sense of hope, of lightness, or to know that things will work out. Highly recommended!

How to Heal a Broken Wing won the Cybils awards in the fiction picture book category, and rightly so.

Want more books?

Go to Inner Strength: Strong Girls–and Boys, too to find another great picture book.

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About Cheryl Rainfield

I write the books I needed and couldn't find as a teen. I write teen fiction--paranormal fantasy and gritty realistic fiction. I'm the author of SCARS (WestSide Books, 2010) #1 ALA QuickPicks, and Governor General Literary Award Finalist, HUNTED (WestSide Books, Oct 2011), STAINED (Harcourt, 2013), The Last Dragon (HIP Books, Sept 2009), and Walking Both Sides (HIP Books, 2011). I also enjoy drawing, surfing the web, connecting with people I like, doing crafts, and being with my dog.
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