Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bird, by Zetta Elliott - a powerful picture book for older readers

Sometimes a book really leaves me at a loss of words. This book, Bird, is hard to capture - it is a short, complex story, but one that is moving, beautiful and sensitive. It tells a story of a young boy whose family is torn apart by drugs; now this young boy is trying to make sense of it all. The author and illustrator together tell this story in a thoughtful, tender way.
written by Zetta Elliott
illustrated by Shadra Strickland
NY: Lee and Low Books, 2008.
ages 9 and up

Mehkai's family has always called him Bird. As a baby, he used to lay in his crib with his mouth open, chirping just like a little bird waiting to be fed. Now, as a boy, he loves to watch and draw birds. His big brother, Marcus, used to teach him how to draw. But then Marcus got sick and his family couldn't help him. Through implication, his brother had become addicted to drugs, but it's never said outright. This is a sensitive, realistic urban story that resonates with the life of many kids today.

Bird deals with his grief through connecting with Uncle Son, his grandfather's best friend, and through drawing the world around him. Art is an escape for Bird. It opens possibilities for him, and allows him a safe way to connect to his brother. In many ways, the artwork in this picture book open possibilities for us, the reader, to connect to Bird's world - both the urban setting, and in his imagination. The illustrations never dominate the story, but they truly illuminate it - drawing the reader into the emotions and the texture of this boy's life.

The video book trailer gives you a great sense of this story - check it out and get this book. It's beautiful, emotionally and visually.

Bird has won many awards over the past few months. Bird is available at the Oakland Public Library and the Berkeley Public Library. You can also buy it at your local bookstore!

I have to send a huge thank you to Doret at the HappyNappyBookseller for my beautiful, signed copy of this book. Please check out her blog - she has great reviews of all sorts of books for kids. Thank you, Doret!

This review was written by Mary Ann Scheuer for Great Kid Books. Copyright 2009.


  1. Thanks for this lovely review! Doret's something else...

  2. Woo hoo! BIRD in Cali~
    Awesome review. Thanks so much!!

  3. Thanks so much for your support and comments! This book is truly beautiful.