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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Fly, Little Bird
Fly, Little Bird
by Tina Burke
Kane/Miller Book Publishers,(January 2006)
When a young girl is out picking flowers with her dog, she comes across a little parrot sitting forlornly in a bush. She picks the bird up and encourages it to fly, but the little bird falls to the ground. So the girl picks the bird up and takes it home with her, and the bird sits on her knee, then her shoulder, and finally sleeps in a leaf-filled box on her dresser. The next day, the bird is with her through all her activities—sitting on her book as she writes, singing along with her as she and the dog sing, posing for her as she paints, and more—and that night, the bird is able to fly. The little girl and her dog are delighted—but the girl wakes up the next morning to find the bird gone (it flew out her open window), and upset, she chases after it with a net. But once she finds the bird, singing happily and flying with other birds, she sets her net down and encourages it to keep flying. That night, she goes to bed happy with her dog, the painting she did of the parrot placed above her head.
Fly, Little Bird is an enchanting tale about compassion, friendship, and knowing when to let go, told almost completely through pictures. One sentence is repeated twice in the book—"Fly, little bird," once near the beginning, and once at the end, bringing a sense of satisfaction and completeness. It is used differently; in the beginning, the girl uses it simply to encourage the bird to fly, and out of a sense of compassion, while in the end, the girl uses it as a loving release, telling the bird she knows it needs to be free, and she wants it to be happy.
The book relies heavily on the illustrations to tell the story—and tell the story it does. The cartoonish images flow together smoothly and build on each other to tell the story; it is always clear what is happening. Burke uses both borderless illustrations that have a lot of white space or bleed right to the edges, and groups of smaller images on one page that have rounded, color borders similar to what you'd expect in desktop publishing. In many of the illustrations, little or no background is depicted, showing only the immediate action and a few objects or surroundings to suggest the setting (a flower bush and patch of grass for outdoors, the girl's bed, dresser and lamp for indoors). Close ups are used to show us where the bird first is hiding, and later, where the bird is not, using repetition to bring the search full circle.
Burke's use of watercolor works well with the happy feeling of the book; the gentle muted washes of color, frequent splashes of sunlight-yellow, and great use of white space add to the lightness of the book, as do the pastel backgrounds that accompany the bordered illustrations.
The illustrations are sweet—the young girl and her dog are frequently joyful, filled with life, with open-mouthed grins and friendly expressions. The girl, especially, is a bit too cutesy for my taste, almost sugary, as is the bird with its oversized mournful eyes. Burke's work experience with Disney is evident, here. Still, the story remains a lovely one.
The happy, joyful girl and dog capture the wonder and joy that young children can have, and that, as well as the obvious comfort and companionship that the dog brings, help keep this book on a happy tone, even during what could be a painful section (such as the bird not flying, or the bird having left once it learns to fly). The dog appears in most of the illustrations, always echoing what the girl is feeling—worry over the bird, delight at the bird flying, puzzlement as to where the bird can be, and joy and satisfaction at having found the bird and let the bird be. The last image, especially, is touching, when the girl and her dog are so obviously happy and cozy, snuggled together in her bed, smiling in their sleep, with an image of the happy bird above her bed, bringing the bird symbolically into the picture, but knowing that it is out flying free.
This is a soothing, joyful book, one that encourages friendship, compassion, and not holding on too tight (or knowing when to let go), all without preaching. If you're looking for a feel-good book or a comforting tale, this is it. Highly recommended.
-Added February 2007
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