Fuse #8

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Review of the Day: Fly, Little Bird

On a first glance, the cover of, “Fly, Little Bird”, might strike the casual reader as awfully cutesy. A roly-poly little girl flaps her arms ala wings, while wearing blue footie pajamas. A small dog capers happily below. On closer inspection, however, you can’t help but notice the terrified animal perched on the little girl’s shoulder. It’s a bird (little, at that) with an expression of abject despair plastered across its face. Cutesy picture books are a dime a dozen, but this particular number by first-time author/illustrator Tina Burke has a lot going for it. Cute, yes. But this is also one of those highly sought after wordless picture books of the most basic variety. Should you, for any reason, need a title that keeps its plot essentially visual, “Fly, Little Bird”, may be the answer to your prayers.

A small girl child and her pup are out ah-gatherin’ flowers. While buried in the midst of this activity they happen to hear the unmistakable note of a bird. A quick investigation into a bush shows a miserable looking green avian with a yellow belly and red beak. Kind soul that she is, the child picks up the bird, places it on her finger, and encourages it to, “Fly, little bird”. Flight doesn’t seem to be one of the bird’s strengths, however. This is made infinitely clear when it tumbles backwards off of the girl’s finger onto the grass below. No matter. The child scoops the little creature up and carries it away to her home. There she feeds it, reads to it, and makes it a little leaf-filled place to sleep. There’s a nice montage of the threesome (don’t forget the dog) hanging out in the little girl’s room until one day the bird is flying and soaring around the home. This is all well and good, but an open window means that when the little girl wakes up the following morning, the bird is gone. She and the dog burst out of the home, a net clutched firmly in her chubby little hand. And there, zooming up and above and around are multiple green-bodied birds with yellow bellies and red beaks. “Fly, little bird”, encourages the girl, and that night she and her pup sleep soundly under a portrait of their now far friend.

In many ways this book reminded me of fellow little-bird-little-bird-fly-away-home title, “The True Story of Stellina” by Matteo Pericoli. Of course, “Stellina” relied heavily on text and story and explanation whereas the charm of, “Fly, Little Bird”, lies almost entirely in its visual appeal. Now I have a low tolerance for treacle. Should I sense that a children’s book, picture or otherwise, has gone beyond adorable into ootsy-cutesyness, I instinctively back off from it. “Fly, Little Bird”, however, treads a careful line in this regard. It’s cute, yes. Could you expect any less from a former Disney animator? But it’s not, how you say, overplaying its hand. The story is adorable partly because it’s so endearing. Small children, birds, and dogs are essentially sweet, this is true. But it takes the steady hand of a competent illustrator to make them seem more than just a series of vignettes that make you say, “awww”. Such a steady hand certainly belongs to Tina Burke.

The wordless picture book (which, in spite of the repeating title, is a description that fits this book) can be very useful to young kids who want to “read” a book before they know their letters. Children who don’t speak English right off the bat may also be pleased to find a book they can understand without necessarily knowing the definition of “fly”, “little” or “bird”. This is a sweet little story and should make any child who receives it particularly pleased.


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