Kids Book of the Week: The Dead Bird – Margaret Wise Brown, Illus. Christian Robinson

Kudos to Harper for reissuing this profound little classic by Margaret Wise Brown. I remember this this book from my own childhood–bumping across it in the library and bringing it home. While I’ve gotten some push back from buyers for the stark title and subject matter, that title was exactly what made me pick it up as a kid. Death is mysterious curiosity to kids, too little discussed by adults and integrated into our lives. Brown’s sensitive handling of the story puts the bewildering melancholy of death and the rightness of celebrating life in a sensible, reassuring context.

New artwork by the award-winning illustrator Christian Robinson not only freshens the visuals but adds to the storytelling. Both Kirkus and PW have welcomed it back with starred reviews. Booksellers, I urge you to give this one a little face time on display before shelving it in your issues sections.

 The sad news arrives on the first page: ‘The bird was dead when the children found it.’…They solemnly bury the bird under the leafy trees, improvise a mourning song, and surround a stone marker with summer flowers, behaving ‘the way grown-up people did when someone died.’ Even as the children imitate grief in response to the wild bird’s death, they genuinely grieve the joy that has been lost: ‘You’ll never fly again,’ they realize. Robinson’s illustrations hint at how the improvised funeral enables the children to acknowledge impermanence, his close-ups capturing their concentration as they assemble the memorial. Brown takes a direct approach to a difficult subject, suggesting how community rituals provide solace. Robinson concludes with a wide-angle view of growing trees and the children flying a kite, implying a return to carefree fun and putting a poignant distance between the tiny figures and readers.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

PW also ran a piece on Harper’s Margaret Wise Brown reissue program and interviewed Caldecott Honor illustrator Christian Robinson, who noted:

She wrote so eloquently and so gently, and I was so inspired by her words, that things started lighting up in my head….But the challenging part was creating visuals that presented the story without being too harsh, and finding the right balance to make the art happy and bright without shying away from the subject. I knew this story held a lot of weight, and I had a strong feeling of responsibility to present it in a way that was mine, but still authentic.”

“Brown’s lovely, gentle, and reassuring text remains the same…. Robinson stays true to the intent of the original text and illustrations but elegantly improves upon it with cinematic storytelling. His setting is a lush urban park filled with trees, bridges, and ponds, framed by a city skyline. And his characters are diverse in gender and ethnicity but universal in their emotions, curiosity, and playfulness (one wears fairy wings and another a fox costume). While simply rendered, with basic shapes and few brush strokes, the design of the spreads and the progression of images are spatially sophisticated….[T]he artist’s characters and environments have a realness to them, perhaps because Robinson portrays them with such respect, love, and ease. A story about the importance of ritual and the ability for renewal, itself magnificently renewed by Robinson.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

The Dead Bird (9780060289317) by Margaret Wise Brown, illus. Christian Robinson. $17.99 hardcover. 3/1/16 on sale.

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