Review: The King of the Birds by Acree Graham Macam, illus. Natalie Nelson
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press. Thank you!
Publication: September 2016 by Groundwood Books
In this picture book, inspired by the life of Flannery O’Connor, a young fan of fowl brings home a peacock to be the king of her collection, but he refuses to show off his colorful tail. The girl goes to great lengths to encourage the peacock to display his plumage — she throws him a party, lets him play in the fig tree, feeds him flowers and stages a parade — all to no avail.
Then she finally stumbles on the perfect solution. When she introduces the queen of the birds — a peahen — to her collection, the peacock immediately displays his glorious shimmering tail.
This delightful story, full of humor and heart, celebrates the legacy of a great American writer. Includes an author’s note about Flannery O’Connor.
A picture book inspired by the life of celebrated author Flannery O’Connor? If you think the idea might sound…perhaps too grand or ambitious for a picture book, then please let me assure you that the team of author Acree Graham Macam and illustrator Natalie Nelson have done it! The duo has crafted something fascinating, funny and altogether idiosyncratic with their picture book The King of the Birds.
The story begins with a chicken who can ‘walk backwards and forwards’. A young girl named Flannery and her chicken become famous after being seen by a newspaperman…but after the excitement and fame dies down, Flannery decides she needs more birds. After buying every kind of bird imaginable, Flannery decides she needs even more. The ‘more’ ends of being a spectacularly proud, reticent peacock who refuses to show his tail, who grows increasingly lonely and squawks and screeches loudly (oh so loudly) into the night. As Flannery comes up with a royal solution to the King’s loneliness and lack of tail display, she ends up with even slightly more than she bargained for, making for a very funny (and wordless) ending. Nelson’s illustrations here are vibrant, eye-catching and stylishly atypical, while Macam’s writing of the story is a perfect blend of offbeat and wry yet totally accessible for a picture book audience.
Overall, The King of the Birds is a unique and wonderful picture book. Unusual and visually splendid, with an interesting story to boot, Macam and Nelson have designed and presented something special for their debut here. While a story inspired by the life of Flannery O’Connor, younger children will likely enjoy the story as a great and funny story about a young girl named Flannery and her surprising assortment of fowl. Older kids (and adults!) unfamiliar or less than familiar with O’Connor‘s life will likely find much of the story- and the author’s note- fascinating (and perhaps even an inspiration to read more about O’Connor’s life!). I have been loving the burst of non-fiction, and biographical picture books in children’s lit, and The King of the Birds is another fantastic title to add to the growing list. Any readers who have enjoyed titles such as The Iridescence of Birds, Swan, Henri’s Scissors, Radiant Child, or Viva Frida, might especially appreciate the singular beauty and quirkiness of The King of the Birds.
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.