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The Language of Doves

The Language of Doves

by Rosemary Wells, Greg Shed (Illustrator)

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On her sixth birthday Julietta's grandfather gives her one of his beautiful homing pigeons and tells her a story of his experience raising and training doves in Italy during the Great War.


On her sixth birthday Julietta's grandfather gives her one of his beautiful homing pigeons and tells her a story of his experience raising and training doves in Italy during the Great War.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Perhaps influenced by her work on Lassie Come-Home (1995), the dextrous Wells digs deep here, producing a soulful and stirring tale. On his rooftop in Brooklyn, Julietta's grandfather tells her a compelling story of being draftedat age ninealong with his carrier pigeons (doves) into the Italian army during World War I. His beloved doves carried secret messages until they were injured or killed. Equally moving is the larger, surrounding story. When Grandfather dies and his doves are sold, Julietta is grief-strickenuntil a dove flies home to her with a final, heartening message from her grandfather. Warmth and nostalgia permeate Shed's (Casey Over There) golden, glowing paintings. Every tender image is suffused with radiance and understated longing. Wells's language carries remarkable poignancy, too: "In the place my heart usually beat was a hollow where the cold wind howled." Those who know Wells chiefly for her wickedly funny Max and Ruby stories will marvel at the depth of emotion she calls forth with such apparent ease. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Deborah Zink Roffino
During the First World War, long before modern communications, it was not uncommon to use homing pigeons-doves-to send messages to and from the front lines. The young narrator in this beautiful story tells of her Italian grandfather and his very special abilities with those doves. Dreamy, burnished pictures, infused with sunlight, recall the memories of a granddaughter who received two great gifts from her Grandfather, her first dove and a knack for training the birds, the language of doves.
Children's Literature - Wendy Ricci
A young girl named Julietta receives two gifts from her grandfather for her sixth birthday-one is a dove from his Brooklyn rooftop loft; the other is a story about his own famous dove, Isabella, from World War I. Remarkably, his bird survived being shot by an Austrian marksman while carrying an important message from the Italians who were asking for help. Julietta names her own dove Isabella and later learns "the language of doves" when the bird successfully returns to the young girl.
Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
When Julietta receives a birthday gift of a dove from her grandfather, he tells her how homing pigeons (doves) played a vital role in his life. At age 9, Grandfather was drafted into the Italian Army in W.W.I because of his pigeons, which were used to send coded messages. When his favorite bird fails to return, he fears she has been killed, but 12 days later, she returned to him bleeding and near dead. Delivering her messages, she was awarded a silver medal by the Italian High Command. Grandfather shows Julietta a photograph of that famous dove, which bears a remarkable resemblance to the dove she has just received-a lasting gift from her grandfather.
School Library Journal
Gr 1-5A compelling book that is a story within a story, a small piece of history that may be unfamiliar to young readers, and an unusual intergenerational tale. When Julietta's grandfather gives her a homing pigeon for her birthday, she names it Isabella after a dove the elderly man had as a boy. The first Isabella was a heroic bird that carried messages for the Italian Army during World War I, was wounded, saved many lives, and was awarded a medal. Now Julietta is hoping this new Isabella will learn to fly home to her when released. To the child's disappointment, her dove always returns to her grandfather. When he dies, all the doves are sold and she is heartbroken, believing Isabella to be among them. In the end Isabella has learned to fly home to Julietta, and this time carries one last message from grandfather in his familiar spidery writing. The first-person narrative is well told. While the ending is truly affecting, it escapes being cloying or overly sentimental. The illustrations are impressionistic and painterly, executed in gouache on canvas. The artist has used a warm palette of gold, sepia, and brown. The beautiful little dove, described as the color of rain clouds, is well portrayed as a kind of richly glowing object of affectionate memory. This book will be especially appreciated where children are learning to identify history as personal story.Kate McClelland, Perrot Memorial Library, Greenwich, CT
Stephanie Zvirin
Wells' latest picture book seamlessly entwines stories from two generations. Julietta loves spending time on the rooftop of her Italian grandfather's Brooklyn building, where he keeps his homing pigeons. On her sixth birthday, Grandfather rewards her with Isabella, a "dove" of her own, and tells" her the poignant World War" I story of Isabella's namesake, who, though wounded, found her way home with a message that saved the lives of eight men. The touching, sentimental story, about death (for both animals and people) and about hope, speaks to subjects little known to children, who will probably be as unaware of homing pigeons as they are of the circumstances of the Great War. Shed's paintings, suffused with misty yellow light, leaven the sadness of Grandfather's inevitable death and provide a wispy scrim from which to better appreciate both the history and the sentiment. When Julietta's own Isabella finds its way home after being lost, the story comes full circle.
Kirkus Reviews
This story starts on a Brooklyn rooftop. Grandfather gives his granddaughter a dove, Isabella, for her birthday and tells her the story of another dove named Isabella. Grandfather was nine then, and both he and the dove were conscripted into the Italian army for the Great War. Returning to base with an important message from the front lines, Isabella was wounded by enemy fire, but struggled back to headquarters in time to save the lives of eight men. It is a story wrapped in the mists of time and memory, moody and seemingly ancient, one that Shed's soft paintings make even dreamier. Back in Queens, when the young girl releases her dove from home, it flies straight back to the grandfather's roost. Fear not, he tells his granddaughter, learn the language of the doves and Isabella will return to you. When the grandfather dies, the doves are sold off, unbeknownst to the girl. Later, her dove appears at her window sill, bearing a message in her grandfather's spidery writing.

Well's tale is one of remembrance, magic, and the power of love, and its melancholy air is lightened by nice touches. The best: In his youth, the grandfather would scour the woods for parasols and morelli, then launch his dove to send word of his finds to the cook at the orphanage.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
10.75(w) x 8.75(h) x 0.40(d)
AD760L (what's this?)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Rosemary Wells (www.rosemarywells.com) is the author and illustrator of dozens of books for children, including the Max and Ruby titles.

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