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Young Mekhai, better known as Bird, loves to draw. With drawings, he can erase the things that don't turn out right. In real life, problems aren’t so easily fixed.

As Bird struggles to understand the death of his beloved grandfather and his older brother’s drug addiction, he escapes into his art. Drawing is an outlet for Bird’s emotions and imagination, and provides a path to making sense of his world. In time, with the help of his ...

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Young Mekhai, better known as Bird, loves to draw. With drawings, he can erase the things that don't turn out right. In real life, problems aren’t so easily fixed.

As Bird struggles to understand the death of his beloved grandfather and his older brother’s drug addiction, he escapes into his art. Drawing is an outlet for Bird’s emotions and imagination, and provides a path to making sense of his world. In time, with the help of his grandfather’s friend, Bird finds his own special somethin’ and wings to fly.

Told with spare grace, Bird is a touching look at a young boy coping with real-life troubles. Readers will be heartened by Bird’s quiet resilience, and moved by the healing power of putting pencil to paper.

Bird, the recipient of Lee & Low's New Voices Award Honor, is the first picture book of both Zetta Elliot and Shadra Strickland.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In a promising debut for both Elliott and Strickland, this picture book tells a poignant story about a boy whose loving family, friends and a gift for drawing help him navigate difficult emotions surrounding the deaths of his grandfather and drug-addicted brother. A complicated weaving of impressive watercolor, gouache, charcoal and ink drawings amplifies the metaphors and action of the poetic text as it combines black-and-white with color. Never straying from believable language in casting Mehkai, the child, as narrator, Elliott skillfully unfolds the sequence of events. Both art and text nimbly play with Mehkai's nickname, Bird, beginning with the image of a shivering bird that, like his brother, seems to be blown away by a gust of wind, and continuing with Uncle Son's attempt to explain the brother's death: " 'You can fix a broken wing with a splint,/ and a bird can fly again,' he said./ 'But you can't fix a broken soul.' " The simplicity of the narrative belies the complexity of the themes; it would be a shame if the picture book format discouraged the proper audience from examining the book. Ages 8-12. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Mehkai, a young African American boy called Bird, relates his feelings about the loss of his grandfather and about his grandfather's best friend Uncle Son, with whom he has a strong relationship. Uncle Son encourages Bird to be himself: "everybody got their somethin'. And that includes you." Bird likes to draw; he draws what he sees. We learn about his older brother Marcus, who used to help care for him, but he becomes involved with drugs and is soon alienated from the family and gone. To help Bird deal with his losses, Uncle Son tells him about the time when their people could fly. Drawing and thinking of Granddad and Marcus up in heaven do help Bird cope with his difficult life. Strickland's naturalistic scenes of the buildings, park benches, and tree-lined streets show us the city that forms Bird's character. He uses watercolors, gouache, charcoal and pen to generate the mood; line drawings enhance the moments of spiritual uplift. The story is serious but hopeful. Mehkai has found his "somethin'." This is an Honor book in the Lee & Low New Voices Award. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal

Gr 1-5

An urban African-American boy transcends the loss of loved ones with help from a caring elderly mentor and from the sustaining ability to create art. Bird looks back and remembers his once-admired older brother Marcus's slow descent into drug addiction, expulsion from the family home, and ultimate death-a death that ostensibly led to the decline and death of his beloved grandfather as well. Wise Uncle Son picks up where Granddad leaves off and becomes the steadying and inspiring influence in Bird's life as he learns not only the hard lesson that, "You can't fix a broken soul," but also to look to the future with confidence. Despite the plainspoken, accessible language, the author's flashback structure may not be as successful with this audience as a more linear story arc. The illustrations, rendered with a delicate touch in watercolor, gouache, charcoal, and pen, emphasize the textual theme of resilience in adversity, even while Marcus's appearances are often shrouded in a palette of grays. Bird's own pencil drawings of city life and the repetition of Marcus's symbolic bright cap add interest and meaning to the visual narrative. From a first-time author and illustrator comes a sad truth of contemporary life successfully leavened with hopeful optimism.-Kate McClelland, Perrot Memorial Library, Old Greenwich, CT

Kirkus Reviews
Nicknamed Bird at birth, Mehkai idolizes his older brother Marcus. As they mature, both brothers excel in art. However, Marcus's drug experimentation spirals into an all-consuming addiction. While Bird's drawings are intricate and controlled, Marcus's colorful graffiti sprawls, depicting a bird in flight. Bird's conflicting emotions about Marcus authentically reflect his African-American family's turmoil when his brother dies. His late Granddad's friend responds to Bird's despair with quiet strength: "You can fix a broken wing with a splint / and a bird can fly again / But you can't fix a broken soul." Elliott's sensitivity for her subjects resonates with Strickland's distinctive mixed-media art. Shifting perspectives and colors reflect Marcus's deepening addiction; his signature cap alters accordingly. Off-kilter lines exude the random energy and volatility of an addict. In two powerful double-page spreads, a doorway separates the brothers; Bird, flooded in light, reaches for Marcus, but his brother remains in the darkness. With unusual depth and raw conviction, Elliott's child-centered narrative excels in this debut. (Picture book. 8-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781600602412
  • Publisher: Lee & Low Books, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/28/2008
  • Pages: 48
  • Sales rank: 407,608
  • Age range: 10 years
  • Lexile: AD720L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.40 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

ZETTA ELLIOTT is a visiting professor in the African American and African Studies Program at Mount Holyoke College as well as an accomplished poet, playwright, and author. As a young girl, she loved to escape into a good book and began writing as a way to create "a world that was better than my own." Elliott lives in Brooklyn, New York. Bird, the recipient of Lee & Low's New Voices Award Honor, is her first picture book.

SHADRA STRICKLAND grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and earned her MFA at New York's School of Visual Arts "Illustration as Visual Essay" program. She currently freelances as an illustrator and a graphic designer. Like Bird, she uses drawing as a way of interpreting her world. Strickland lives in Brooklyn, New York. This is her first picture book.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2013

    This book is awesome! interesting and well handled subject matte

    This book is awesome! interesting and well handled subject matter! 

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