Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Elsie's Bird

Elsie's Bird

Jane Yolen
Illustrator:   David Small 
Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Penguin, 2010   ISBN: 978-0399252921

Elsie has a happy life living in the city of Boston with her Mama and her Papa. She loves to explore the city, and she knows the names of all the birds. As she skips and runs through the streets, she loves to sing the songs of the birds “back at them.”

Then a dark cloud covers the sun in Elsie’s life. Her mother dies and Elsie’s Papa decides that he needs to leave Boston to go somewhere far away so that he can leave behind “the sadness in his heart.” When they get to their farm, which lies in the middle of a sea of grass in Nebraska, Elsie realizes that her new home is going to be nothing like her old one. She misses the sight and sound of the sea. She misses being around other people. Elsie dreams “of Boston cobbles and bells.” The one thing that lifts her spirits is the presence of Timmy Tune, a little canary. Throughout the day Elsie and her pet sing “back and forth.” Timmy Tune’s little voice injects some sunshine into Elsie’s otherwise sad and lonely life.

Then one day Timmy Tune gets out of his cage and Elsie runs out into the grass to find her beloved pet. How will she survive in this place without him?

In this magical picture book, Jane Yolen takes her readers back to a time in American history when many families left the places they knew and went west. They gave up much that was familiar to build a new life on the open prairies. Eagerly or reluctantly, children went to these new places, and for many of them it was a shock to discover that their new home was nothing like the one they had left. With sensitivity and lyrical writing that beautifully captures the essence of Elsie’s world, Jane Yolen has once again created a book that will delight readers of all ages.

David Small’s expressive illustrations perfectly capture the essence of Jane Yolen’s story. With changing perspectives and flashes of color, David Small’s paintings are full of movement, and readers will come to understand how a “sea of grass” can be beautiful.