Elsie's Bird

Elsie's Bird

by Jane Yolen, David Small

View All Available Formats & Editions

Elsie is a city girl. She loves the noise of the cobbled streets of Boston. But when her mother dies and her father moves them to the faraway prairies of Nebraska, Elsie hears only the silence, and she feels alone in the wide sea of grass. Her only comfort is her canary, Timmy Tune. But when Timmy flies out the window, Elsie is forced to run after him, into the tall


Elsie is a city girl. She loves the noise of the cobbled streets of Boston. But when her mother dies and her father moves them to the faraway prairies of Nebraska, Elsie hears only the silence, and she feels alone in the wide sea of grass. Her only comfort is her canary, Timmy Tune. But when Timmy flies out the window, Elsie is forced to run after him, into the tall grass of the prairie, where she's finally able to hear the voice of the prairie-beautiful and noisy- and she begins to feel at home.
Jane Yolen and David Small create a remarkable, poetic, vividly rendered book about finding one's place in the world.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When her grief-stricken, widowed father decides to leave Boston to be a pioneer farmer on the Nebraska prairie, Elsie wonders if she'll ever feel at home in the world again. Overwhelmed by "the grass and sky and silence," Elsie cloisters herself in the family's remote sod house. But one day her beloved canary escapes, and Elsie, forced to confront her surroundings, experiences an epiphany: she "finally heard the voices of the plains." Yolen's prose moves gracefully from solemn to euphoric as her young heroine embraces her adopted landscape ("She heard long vees of geese spinning out cries like thread; the creaking call of sandhill cranes.... She clapped her hands and sang back to them, too, skip-rope songs and sea shanties"). But the real draw lies in Small's deeply empathic treatment of his heroine, his unerring sense of composition and color, and, above all, his keen sensitivity to the emotional pull of place. Though Elsie doesn't immediately recognize the beauty of the plains, Small does, imbuing the windswept fields and Elsie's cozy sod house with all the vitality of her former home. Ages 5–8. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Elsie has always been a Boston girl. But after her mama dies, Elsie's father's sadness leads him to the decision to go far west to Nebraska, a place where there are few people or even towns at this time in history. Elsie takes her pet canary, Timmy Tune, with her in his cage across the endless, lonely miles. In a sod house in Nebraska Elsie dreams of Boston. Only Timmy brings her comfort. Unfortunately one day he flies out of the open cage. Losing herself on the prairie in search of him, Elsie sings him back. While out there, however, she finally hears "the voices of the prairie." She sings back to them. Her papa calls her back, having brought hens, a rooster, and a hound dog home. Finally Elsie's house becomes "a true prairie home" for her. The lengthy poetic text clearly evokes the emotions of the lonely girl. Small's double-page impressionistic illustrations, rendered in brush and ink with watercolor and pastel, reinforce these emotions. Elsie is an appealing character with her red pigtails and charming smile. The settings bring to life the city of Boston, the long train, the endless silence of the prairie, the sea of grass. We rejoice with Elsie at the happy ending. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 1–4—Elsie, Boston born, loves the sounds and sights—and especially the songs—of the city, but when her mother dies, her father seeks comfort on the frontier of Nebraska. Her new prairie home is all grass and sky and silence and Elsie feels small and afraid. Her only companion, a going-away gift, is Timothy Tune, a canary with whom she exchanges songs throughout her solitary days. When the door to the cage is accidentally left open, Timothy flies free, and Elsie is devastated. Leaving her fears behind, she races through the tall grass to find him and begins to understand the sounds of the prairie and takes them to her heart. When Timothy sings his way back to her—just as her father returns from town with hens, a banty rooster, and a hound dog—Elsie realizes that, at last, she has found a "true prairie home." Yolen's evocative story, full of wonder and warmth, rolls smoothly along on carefully worded phrases, capturing the child's emotions as well as the flavor of the time and setting in a simple yet heartfelt way. Small's delivery, completely in sync with the author's, brings Elsie deftly to life. The illustrations, rendered in brush and ink with watercolor and pastel, realize both the streets of Boston and the grasslands of Nebraska with equal ease and aplomb.—Barbara Elleman, Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, MA
Kirkus Reviews
Elsie moves with her widowed father from bustling 19th-century Boston to the vast Nebraska plains, where she misses the hymns, play songs and hum of her Eastern city. Yolen's measured, moving verse shimmers with brilliantly honed images and sharp details. Readers won't forget the "maple chest / packed with linens her mother had sewn / over the long year before she died." Ink, watercolor and pastel illustrations, both fluid and precise, suggest the brisk movement of the external world and the subtlety of internal emotions. Lithe strokes of color and line describe rippling fields, the arc of a jump-rope and even grief in the face of a father. Masterfully composed full- and half-page spreads frequently place Elsie in upper and outer quadrants, with grasses, land, buildings and bare rooms pushing her into the periphery. She appears marginalized by larger forces, making it easy for young children to empathize with this small, displaced girl who can't see Nebraska's wild, rambling beauty or hear the musical buzz of its insects. This poignant and powerful picture book closes with an uplifting rising of prairie voices--music to Elsie's ears. (Picture book. 4-10)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sold by:
Penguin Group
AD890L (what's this?)
File size:
28 MB
This product may take a few minutes to download.
Age Range:
5 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Born and raised in New York City, Jane Yolen now lives in Hatfield, Massachusetts. She attended Smith College and received her master's degree in education from the University of Massachusetts. The distinguished author of more than 170 books, Jane Yolen is a person of many talents. When she is not writing, Yolen composes songs, is a professional storyteller on the stage, and is the busy wife of a university professor, the mother of three grown children, and a grandmother.

Active in several organizations, Yolen has been on the Board of Directors of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, was president of the Science Fiction Writers of America from 1986 to 1988, is on the editorial board of several magazines, and was a founding member of the Western New England Storytellers Guild, the Western Massachusetts Illustrators Guild, and the Bay State Writers Guild. For twenty years, she ran a monthly writer's workshop for new children's book authors. In 1980, when Yolen was awarded an honorary Doctor of Law degree by Our Lady of the Elms College in Chicopee, Massachusetts, the citation recognized that "throughout her writing career she has remained true to her primary source of inspiration--folk culture." Folklore is the "perfect second skin," writes Yolen. "From under its hide, we can see all the shimmering, shadowy uncertainties of the world." Folklore, she believes, is the universal human language, a language that children instinctively feel in their hearts.

All of Yolen's stories and poems are somehow rooted in her sense of family and self. The Emperor and the Kite, which was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1983 for its intricate papercut illustrations by Ed Young, was based on Yolen's relationship with her late father, who was an international kite-flying champion. Owl Moon, winner of the 1988 Caldecott Medal for John Schoenherr's exquisite watercolors, was inspired by her husband's interest in birding.

Yolen's graceful rhythms and outrageous rhymes have been gathered in numerous collections. She has earned many awards over the years: the Regina Medal, the Kerlan Award, the World Fantasy Award, the Society of Children's Book Writers Award, the Mythopoetic Society's Aslan Award, the Christopher Medal, the Boy's Club Jr. Book Award, the Garden State Children's Book Award, the Daedalus Award, a number of Parents' Choice Magazine Awards, and many more. Her books and stories have been translated into Japanese, French, Spanish, Chinese, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Afrikaans, !Xhosa, Portuguese, and Braille.

With a versatility that has led her to be called "America's Hans Christian Andersen," Yolen, the child of two writers, is a gifted and natural storyteller. Perhaps the best explanation for her outstanding accomplishments comes from Jane Yolen herself: "I don't care whether the story is real or fantastical. I tell the story that needs to be told."

copyright ? 2000 by Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.

David Small grew up in Detroit, studied Art and English at Wayne State University and completed his graduate studies in art at Yale. He went on to teach drawing and printmaking at the college level for fourteen years, during which time his first book Eulalie and The Hopping Head was published. David no longer teaches but has continued illustrating.

David has illustrated twenty-seven picture books, and has also provided the text for six of them. His Imogene’s Antlers has been featured for fifteen years on PBS’ “Reading Rainbow.” Fenwick's Suit presently is in production by Fox 2000. Four of David’s bestselling picture books were written by his wife, Sarah Stewart. Their book The Gardener was the recipient of 17 awards including the Christopher Medal and the 1998 Caldecott Honor Award.

David’s books have been translated into six languages. He also has worked years as a freelance editorial artist, with his drawings appearing regularly in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post. His reviews of picture books appear frequently in The New York Times Book Review.

Of his beginnings as an artist David has this to say: “Detroit is not where I would have lived given the choice as a child. Then, I would much rather have lived in Candy Land. But the fact is Detroit—a harsh, industrial—made art and music all the more sweet in my young life, more urgent and more of a necessity. Seen in that light, Detroit was the perfect place for me to grow up.”

David Small and Sarah Stewart make their home in Michigan in an 1833 Greek Revival house on ten acres of land along the banks of the St. Joseph River. Their house is on the National Register of Historic Places, and their property marks the northern boundary of the Great Tallgrass Prairie.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >