Sparrow Girl

( 2 )


Ming-Li looked up and tried to imagine the sky silent, empty of birds. It was a terrible thought. Her country's leader had called sparrows the enemy of the farmers—they were eating too much grain, he said. He announced a great "Sparrow War" to banish them from China, but Ming-Li did not want to chase the birds away.

As the people of her village gathered with firecrackers and gongs to scatter the sparrows, Ming-Li held her ears and watched in dismay. The birds were falling from ...

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Ming-Li looked up and tried to imagine the sky silent, empty of birds. It was a terrible thought. Her country's leader had called sparrows the enemy of the farmers—they were eating too much grain, he said. He announced a great "Sparrow War" to banish them from China, but Ming-Li did not want to chase the birds away.

As the people of her village gathered with firecrackers and gongs to scatter the sparrows, Ming-Li held her ears and watched in dismay. The birds were falling from the trees, frightened to death! Ming-Li knew she had to do something—even if she couldn't stop the noise. Quietly, she vowed to save as many sparrows as she could, one by one...

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The so-called Sparrow War, declared by Mao in 1958, furnishes the basis for this grim story. Deciding that sparrows are eating too much grain, "our Leader" orders his people to drive them away, and Ming-Li's whole village turns out to "[make] so much noise the ground itself rumble[s]." Ming-Li objects, pointing out that other birds will leave along with the sparrows, but she is silenced; on her own, she creates a bird refuge in an abandoned barn and becomes a heroine the following year, when the birds are needed to control worms, grasshoppers and other pests. Fans hoping for the insouciance of Pennypacker's Clementine will look in vain; Ming-Li's determination rises up against the frightening images of marauding villagers and of dead birds raining from the sky. Debut artist Tanaka contributes skillful but unsettling pictures-her overcast palette, skewed perspectives and stylized faces create the atmosphere of a bad dream. Ages 5-9. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Mary Hynes-Berry
Pennypacker's latest work is a fictionalized account of an important ecological lesson that actually occurred in China in 1958 when Mao declared that all sparrows should be killed as pests that ruined rice crops. In this telling, a young girl named Ming-Li rescues and hides 7 sparrows because she cannot bear to see the dead sparrows that seem to her be raining down like teardrops. The next year, locust, worms, and other pests that are the natural prey of sparrows are devastating the village's crop. It is Ming-Li's sparrows that enable this village to escape famine. In fact, an author's note tells us 30 to 40 million Chinese people were not as fortunate. Although they do underscore the serious subtext of the story, Tanaka's muted colors and stylized drawings may not appeal to everyone. This book offers teachers and young readers an important message about the importance of thinking through the interdependency of the natural world and about the meaning of courage. What we might condemn as a pest may in fact be making an important contribution to our lives—and even our survival. Some children might extend this rethinking to their pesky siblings. Reviewer: Mary Hynes-Berry
School Library Journal

K-Gr 4

In 1958, in a stunning demonstration of unintended consequences, Mao Tse-tung decimated the sparrow population of China by compelling every able-bodied citizen to set off firecrackers, clang gongs, beat on drums, etc., over a three-day period. The frightened birds took wing until they dropped dead of exhaustion. Though this kept the sparrows from eating the wheat crop, it also prevented them from controlling the locust population, resulting in a famine. Pennypacker has imagined the thoughts and actions of a little girl who loves the sparrows and manages to rescue a few of them, keeping them safe in a barn and feeding them secretly in the months that follow. When the crops in her village are threatened by the insects, Ming-Li shows the farmers the birds she has tended and they release them, recognizing that the sparrows have always been their friends. While this picture book, with its murky folk-art-style illustrations, owes more to ecological concerns than historical fact, it will be useful in teaching about the potential of one person to make a difference in the world, and the potential of many humans to create disasters.-Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, NY

Kirkus Reviews
In this sober tale based on Mao Zedong's 1958 edict to eradicate China's sparrows to prevent crop damage, a compassionate little girl follows her heart instead of her Leader. When Ming-Li learns of Mao's plan to eliminate the sparrows by creating noise for three consecutive days, she prophetically fears the terrible din will kill all birds. As mindless mobs beat drums, clang gongs, crash cymbals and explode firecrackers, Ming-Li's worst fears are realized, but not before she hides seven sparrows, which she feeds and tends in secret. When spring arrives and shocked farmers watch helplessly as locusts decimate their crops, Ming-Li reveals her secret and saves her village from famine. Tanaka's quiet, simple illustrations in subdued tones match the somber mood. In her red suit, Ming-Li's solitary figure stands out from the villagers in their uniform blue jackets, reinforcing her individuality. Moving images, such as a double-page spread of dead sparrows falling like "teardrops" while a weeping Ming-Li cradles a limp bird, send a powerful message that one small person can make a big difference. (author's note) (Picture book. 5-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781423111870
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
  • Publication date: 2/17/2009
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 350,883
  • Product dimensions: 9.60 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Sara Pennypacker

Sara Pennypacker is the author of the acclaimed Clementine series, illustrated by Marla Frazee; Stuart's Cape and Stuart Goes to School, both illustrated by Martin Matje; and Dumbstruck. Sara lives in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Yoko Tanaka made her children's book debut with Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers. Before graduating from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, Yoko won a Gold Award from the Society of Illustrators in Los Angeles. Her work has been featured in several magazines, and in galleries across the globe. Sparrow Girl is her first picture book.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 30, 2011

    A Must-Read Book

    Sparrow Girl is about a girl named Ming-Li and she wants to save the sparrows from being killed. Ming-Li and her brother team up to save as many sparrow as they could. All together Ming-li and her brother saved 7 sparrows. Later a lot of people died. The sparrows were actually the ones that were saving the crops and the insects were the ones eating the crops. I think that Ming-Li is brave because she was brave enough to disobey the leader. I would recommend this book to people who like Clementine , The Talented Clementine also by Sara Pennypacker and historical fiction.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted March 8, 2013

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