Thanks to the very kind folks at Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, I have two fascinating children’s books on review today! We will start with a look at the award-winning The Bird in Me Flies by Sara Lundberg, translated by B.J. Epstein, followed by a review of Dasha Tolstikova’s picture book The Bad Chair. Happy reading to you all!
An outstanding illustrated short novel-in-verse, The Bird in Me Flies by Sara Lundberg, translated by B.J. Epstein, is a captivating, deeply affecting story, inspired by the life of Swedish artist Berta Hansson. It is the 1920s in a northern farming village in Sweden and young Berta dreams of flying away to another life. As a young girl who sees the world with questioning eyes and is inclined towards art and artistic pursuits, thinking of a pre-determined life ahead as on the farm or as a housewife seems…fundamentally wrong. Incongruous. While encouraged by her beloved mother (who has been seriously ill for many years with tuberculosis) to draw and explore, Berta’s father sees no place for art. Or perhaps rather, he sees no place for young Berta to plan for a future in anything beyond the practical and domestic expectations for women. The Bird in Me Flies follows the ebb and flow of the innermost, hidden thoughts, wonders, and dreams that Berta holds dear, as she: endures the limitations of her school, teachers and classmates; catches glimpses of real artwork in her reality; prepares for her eldest sister to leave home; and copes with the deepest familial tragedy. A pensive, thoughtful and thought-provoking read, with an incredible moment of climax, and an ending that proffers rays of change and hope. The Bird in Me Flies is gorgeous, with Lundberg’s absolutely stunning and varied illustrations (inspired by Hansson’s own artwork) adding even more atmosphere, weight, and astonishment to this story. For readers who enjoy novels-in-verse and/or biographical non-fiction or biographical picture books (e.g. Planting Stories; Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker; Mary, Who Wrote Frankenstein; Dinosaur Lady), The Bird in Me Flies is highly recommended reading. Extras: Back Matter includes a detailed and not-to-be-missed Afterwords by journalist Alexandra Sundqvist, complete with photographs of Berta Hansson and her family, looks at Hansson‘s artwork, notes from personal journals, and details on Hansson’s later life; Further Reading and a list of sources. Notes: For readers wishing to read more about Sara Lundberg’s creative process for The Bird in Me Flies, there is a fantastically detailed post from the author-artist over on Picturebook Makers. I also did my own further reading and exploration into Berta Hansson’s artwork and life, reading a few different online sources- you can take a look here, here, and here if you are interested.
A watchful red chair sits at the centre of Dasha Tolstikova’s (A Year Without Mom) latest picture book, The Bad Chair. Night after night, Chair watches longingly as a young girl named Vivi and her friend Monkey play a game of hide-and-investigate. Monkey hides under a blanket as per usual, Vivi pretends to look and then asks her witnesses if they’ve seen Monkey. Chair, a witness, would like nothing more than to be part of their game- to actually get to hide and be found! The other house crew/witnesses don’t seem to mind not being part of the excitement- Kettle’s attention is on making tea, Cat doesn’t seem to care, and Plant is focused on Cat. Chair devises a slightly dastardly plan to temporarily take over duties from Monkey; as you might imagine, though, plans go awry as Monkey’s absence causes a kerfuffle and guilty admission from Chair. The Bad Chair is a somewhat difficult to define story (even with a core message about friendship): it is once oddball (which I quite love) and quiet; subversive and visually atypical, with unexpected moments of humour and shows of kindness. It is also a story that in my estimation, grows increasingly appealing upon each reading. Dasha Tolstikova’s illustrations here are clean and bright, crafting so much (kind of like Jon Klassen!) with short lines of a smile, eyebrows, and shifting eyes. Readers familiar with Tolstikova’s wonderful roster of picture books and illustrative work, or those who enjoy sideways stories like The Obstinate Pen and stories by Daisy Hirst, Olivier Tallec, or Polly Dunbar might especially love meeting The Bad Chair.
I received digital copies of these titles courtesy of Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own. Titles have been published and are currently available.