Bullying between children is to a great degree not controllable by adults. Grownups want to believe we can intervene, come to the rescue, reason with the perpetrators. Perhaps the hard truth is that we can’t really penetrate the society of children; kids are left to their own survival initiatives, difficult as that is for the observer to bear.

Bird Child by Nan Forler (illustrated by Francois Thisdale) faces those unfortunate possibilities, but it is not cynical or defeatist. When the protagonist Eliza tells her mother about how other children are tormenting her new classmate Lainey, the adult does not go out in the snow and try to rescue the victim, or march to the school to demand action. Instead she asks Eliza  to think of “something special about her.” She then encourages her daughter to help Lainey learn to fly, their metaphor for imagination.

The illustrations in the book are delicate, almost ironically so considering the shark that swims beneath the surface. The colors are rich and often dark, reminding me of endless and bleak post-holiday-season winters of my own childhood. While Lainey appears to be a beautiful child, it’s easy to see how her very blonde, straw-like hair would make her stand out, and her run-down home makes it easy for other children to peg her economic class. The book is short, the story quick, but chords are struck–Lainey’s lack of reaction to the torment is especially heartbreaking, suggesting she has been there before and knows fighting back is futile. Eliza can only sense the  subtle flattening of Lainey’s spirit. What eases Lainey’s burden is not adult intervention, or conformity or an escape plan. Instead, Eliza shows the angry boys that being little and carrying a big voice is its own form of intimidation. With the bullies at bay–for now–the girls are free to “fly,” to use their imaginations to build “a snow castle that reached to the sky.” Bird Child is published by Tundra Books.

3 comments for “

  1. Brennen Nelson
    April 14, 2011 at 3:34 am

    Excellent review and an excellent topic! Unfortunately, it is one I am all too familiar with. I will have to check this book out with my children.

  2. April 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    I read this book last year….loved it! Thanks for sharing, Peter!

  3. April 28, 2011 at 12:37 am

    Children don’t have a worldly perspective; they only know what they know, and if bullying is it, that for them is the norm. This sounds like an interesting book.

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