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Grandmother's Pigeon

Grandmother's Pigeon

by Louise Erdrich, Jim LaMarche (Illustrator)

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When grandmother sails away, she leaves behind a collection of birds' nest--and three eggs in one nest miraculously begin to hatch out passenger pigeon chicks. Illustrations.


When grandmother sails away, she leaves behind a collection of birds' nest--and three eggs in one nest miraculously begin to hatch out passenger pigeon chicks. Illustrations.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As in her fiction for adults (Love Medicine), Erdrich makes every word count in her bewitching debut children's story. Similarly, there is not a wasted stroke in LaMarche's (The Rainbabies; Carousel) evocative acrylic and colored-pencil art, which brings the characters' expressive faces and likable personalities into sharp focus. Because Grandmother had trained kicking mules and skied the Continental Divide, her two grandchildren have come to expect the unexpected. Even so, the adventurous woman surprises them and their parents when, parasol in hand, she sails away on the back of a porpoise, announcing, "I've always wanted to see Greenland!" Reluctantly cleaning out her room one year later, the subdued family discovers something mysterious among Grandmother's many treasures: a twig nest containing three eggs that hatch into birds of an extinct species. Erdrich's articulate, wide-eyed narrator, the missing woman's granddaughter, conveys a contagious sense of wonder and serenely invokes some breathtaking imagery; describing Grandmother's bird nest collection, she notes, "I liked the hummingbird's, no bigger than my little fingernail, created with stolen spiderwebs." Impeccably paired, text and art gracefully build to a conclusion that both reassures and startles. Magical from beginning to end. Ages 5-9. (Apr.)
Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
This story combines fantasy and realism in a world or wonder. When their unconventional grandmother sails away on the back of a 'congenial porpoise' for Greenland, her family waits eagerly for her return. After a year, they venture into her room to discover a nest with birds' eggs about to hatch. An ornithologist identifies them as passenger pigeons, extinct since 1914. When word leaks out, the family is harassed by the media and scientists. Their final decision about the birds is in keeping with grandmother's philosophy and lifestyle. LaMarche is a master at portraying characters who look like people you'd like to know. This is pure magic with a Grandmother who is truly a 'rara avis.'
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
Noted adult novelist Louise Erdrich's first book for children is a humorous and thought-provoking tale of the joys of eccentricity, the importance of faith, and the problems of species extinction-all wrapped up in one beautifully illustrated package. Grandmother takes off for Greenland (because she's always wanted to see it) on the back of a porpoise. In her absence, her stuffed passenger pigeon mysteriously produces three eggs that hatch, naturally, into baby passenger pigeons. What the family does with live samples of the extinct bird and how they communicate with Grandmother is the crux of this lovely story.
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
K-Gr 3Erdrich's first book for children is a moving paean to a mysterious grandmother and a fantasy as well. The family matriarch, who is described in loving, fluid language, is a bit of an eccentric. She has vanished, as the story opens, on the back of a porpoise enroute to Greenland, leaving her belongings behind. What happens next "is a fluke, a miracle"-eggs from one of the woman's birds' nests hatch and three young male squabs of an extinct species-passenger pigeons-flourish; all the while, grandmother's stuffed pigeon sits motionless on a plaster roost wearing just a hint of a knowing smile. Ornithologists, laboratory scientists, and reporters then invade the household until the children can bear no more. They attach messages to the birds' feet, open the cage, and set them free. A few weeks later a return message arrives via the post. This one is from a traveler who had to change porpoises three times before reaching her destination. Full-page, large, realistic paintings define and complement the text. LaMarche's pictures of the woman's bedroom are chock-full of cherished clutter; and the children are drawn with a deftness that suggests that the illustrator knows them from the inside out. This book is a small gem, a bit of a puzzle, and a delight to pore over and ponder.Harriett Fargnoli, Great Neck Library, NY
Ilene Cooper
Children reside in the world of magic realism, and this offering by adult books author Erdrich will both tantalize them and make them feel utterly at home. An unnamed narrator and her brother delight in their grandmother, who, as it turns out, "is far more mysterious than any of us knew." She disappears on a trip to Greenland--aboard a porpoise's back. When it seems that Grandmother won't be returning, the family reluctantly decides they must clear out her room. Small and cluttered, the room holds everything from a petrified buffalo's tooth to a painting by Paul Klee. But the family is most taken by a bird's nest that holds three small eggs. And then they hatch. To the family's amazement, an ornithologist tells them that the baby pigeons are members of an extinct species that flew in flocks numbering in the millions. Once the news leaks out, the curious descend. The birds grow dull and tired, and the family decides to let them fly free, albeit with a message tied to one's leg. In perhaps the most predictable part of the story, the message is answered by Grandmother, who has finally arrived in Greenland and will be returning home after all. That's the plot, but perhaps what is more important is the book's feeling. Besides the sense of the unexpected that permeates every page is the freshness of the language. The sentence structure is elegant, and since one quality of elegance is simplicity, the writing is never over children's heads. That same spirit is found in the acrylic and colored-pencil artwork that always seems to find its focus in the faces of the children yet mixes everyday bits and pieces with the elusive air of enchantment. Like the pigeons, this is a rare bird--a book that evokes wonder, in both its meanings.
Kirkus Reviews
In her first picture book, a much-praised novelist tips the delicate balance between the fanciful and more realistic aspects of storytelling until the tale almost disintegrates into whimsy.

In Grandmother's cluttered bedroom, undisturbed ever since she disappeared a year ago on the back of a porpoise (ostensibly headed for Greenland), three bird's eggs inexplicably hatch and are identified as passenger pigeons, long thought to be extinct. Their existence causes a scientific and media sensation, but they are languishing in the cage, so the children release them, with messages attached to their legs. Some while later, they receive their first communication from their missing grandmother, whom they have mourned as lost forever, thanking them for their messages and promising to return soon. The point of all this may be that "nature is both tough and fragile," as an ornithologist describes the lesson of the passenger pigeon's extinction, or it may have something to do with the folly of examining miracles too closely. LaMarche (illustrator of Laura Melmed's The Rainbabies) anchors the story with his highly realistic acrylic and colored pencil illustrations that showcase his gift for homely, telling details: the apple core among the clutter on a young boy's bedroom shelf or the chipped polish on a small girl's grubby nails. A lyrical, if somewhat obscure, tale.

Product Details

Hyperion Books for Children
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
11.30(w) x 8.81(h) x 0.38(d)
Age Range:
5 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Brief Biography

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Date of Birth:
June 7, 1954
Place of Birth:
Little Falls, Minnesota
B.A., Dartmouth College, 1976; M.A., Johns Hopkins University, 1979

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