Swordbird (Swordbird Series #1)

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The blue jays and cardinals of Stone-Run Forest have turned against each other. According to legend, only Swordbird, son of the Great Spirit, has the power to conquer evil and restore peace to the land.

Teenage author Nancy Yi Fan weaves a captivating tale about the heroism, courage, and resourcefulness in the birds of Stone-Run's quest for peace.

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The blue jays and cardinals of Stone-Run Forest have turned against each other. According to legend, only Swordbird, son of the Great Spirit, has the power to conquer evil and restore peace to the land.

Teenage author Nancy Yi Fan weaves a captivating tale about the heroism, courage, and resourcefulness in the birds of Stone-Run's quest for peace.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The story behind the publication of Nancy Yi Fan's Swordbird is nearly as enthralling as the book itself. A Chinese-born preteen living in New York, Fan channeled her lifelong fascination with birds and her concerns over war and terrorism into an exuberant sword-and-sorcery-styled fantasy two years in the writing. She then emailed the completed manuscript to HarperCollins…and the rest, as they say, is history. This allegorical tale of warring birds and their struggle for freedom has attracted an unusual measure of attention because of the author's young age. But there is nothing childish about Fan's innate gift for pacing, characterization, or storytelling. We predict many more successes for this talented prodigy.
Time for Kids
“Nancy Yi Fan has done a lot in 13 years.”
Time for Kids
“Nancy Yi Fan has done a lot in 13 years.”
Publishers Weekly

As any fan of Brian Jacques's Redwall saga knows, the forest is teeming with societies of animals that have complicated dynamics. Thirteen-year-old author Yi Fan's debut novel joins the genre with her tale told from the birds' vantage point, translated handily to audio by Delaney. The narrator's steady, assured delivery paints a captivating fantasy world for listeners, replete with feathered heroes and villains. Turnatt, the tyrant hawk, forces his enslaved woodbird subjects to steal eggs and food from both the blue jays and the cardinals, causing the two bird tribes to blame each other and go to war. But when a neutral party reveals Turnatt's plan, the warring factions join forces to seek out the Swordbird, Son of the Great Spirit, the only true hope to help them restore peace. Though listeners may have trouble differentiating Delaney's bird character voices, adventure, action and allegory abound here, helping this recording to take wing. A bonus interview with the author is included. Ages 10-up. (Feb.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
Nancy Yi Fan was eleven when she began writing Swordbird. The story grew from a dream she had following class discussions of the Revolutionary War, terrorism, and 9/11. Wheeling freely through the viewpoints of multiple characters and beyond, this is the story of a society of birds in the grip of an ongoing feud. The blue jays and cardinals have been squabbling for generations, but now a tyrannical hawk is using slave-catchers to escalate the conflict in the pursuit of absolute power. When Aska of the Bluewingle tribe meets the slavebird Miltin, the resulting small steps toward freedom lead eventually to a great battle and the triumph of sacrifice and heroism. This writing has a youthful exuberance. The reach of the story is vast and courageous. Its precocious accomplishment is evident in the invention of "somebird" and "anybird" as pronouns, and in somber yet ingenuous revelations ("...every egg was bought with scars and bruises") about the marauding hawk Turnatt's past. Elsewhere, the writer's age shows more plainly. Bean soup and raspberry pie overcome armed raiders. Aska exhorts the blue jays to take risks "with a determined tone in her voice." Yet the same flat delivery renders sharply sinister the scene in which Turnatt wantonly kills a raven. Mark Zug's black-and-white drawings repeat strategically, offering a visual underpinning to the characters and story line. In balance, even given the quirky and unpredictable nature of childhood writing, this young writer seems a natural word bird. With luck, despite her rise to early international fame, she will successfully negotiate the complex choreography of writing and life that would seem to be foreshadowed by this debut.
VOYA - Angelica Delgado
The cardinals and blue jays are at war. Strangely enough, they were friends a short while ago, but accusations of egg theft made them enemies. Little did they know that sinister, one-eyed hawk Turnatt stole and ate the eggs to feed his insatiable need for everlasting life. He enlisted an avian army and then enslaved other birds to do his bidding. When the sparring birds learn about the conspiracy behind their sudden animosity, they conclude that the mythical Swordbird might be their only hope for a truce. Swordbird, a white bird and guardian of peace, can be summoned with a song and a gem. The bird tribes send delegates Aska, a blue jay, and Miltin, a robin, across the dangerous White Cap Mountains on a quest for one of the eight known Leasorn gems in existence. Now living in the U.s., Chinese-born, first-time author Fan began writing this novel when she was twelve years old. She conjures an intricate bird cosmology and hierarchy as a background to the overall plot. The book moves swiftly from chapter to chapter with help from sheer brevity, copious action scenes, and illustrations. Novice readers will enjoy the large text and generous spacing and margins. Advanced readers can muse over the novel's allegorical nature and literary allusions. The author provides a list of major characters to help keep up with the sizeable cast. Aficionados of Jacques's Redwall series should enjoy this new offering to the anthropomorphized animal genre.
School Library Journal

Gr 4–6
The Stone-Run Country is in peril. The blue jays' Bluewingle tribe and their former friends, the cardinals of the Sunrise tribe, have gone to war. Each side believes the other to have stolen its food and eggs, little suspecting the malicious hawk, Turnatt, along with his hoard of crows and ravens. Now he is intent on forcing all of the local woodbirds to work on his magnificent fortress, and it's up to a variety of brave avians to upset the villain's plans. Their only hope lies in summoning the great warrior, Swordbird, to assist them in their time of need. Fan wrote the book when she was 11 as a response to a world at war; it goes without saying that she is very talented. However, the book essentially reuses old tropes in a new setting, making the plot, pacing, and characters more than a little predictable and, for all of its charms, the story is overly familiar. Dialogue runs to the clunky with lines like, "I'll get you, me and my crew will" and "You'll pay for that, scalawag!" The greatest credit should be given to the illustrator, who took the author's imagery and made it believable as well as attractive.
—Elizabeth BirdCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Turnatt, a corrupt hawk, sets out to take over the Stone Run Forest and all its feathered denizens by drafting crows and ravens to do his dirty work and by using those recruits to enslave and divide the forest's bird communities. With the help of an escaped slave, the jays, cardinals, robins and a hot-air balloon full of traveling birds mount a spirited opposition to the forces of evil in their world. This avian fantasy is an engaging and propulsive read, but as often happens with debut novels, style is not the strong point. Fantasy elements are both derivative and inconsistent, making the narrative into an extended fairytale with a few realistic birdlike trappings. Occasional stilted dialogue, unadorned prose and a derivative plot detract from the unusual use of birds as the focus of the story. Fan, currently a seventh grader in China, began Swordbird when she was ten years old-an extraordinary accomplishment for a young author. It will appeal to fans of the Mistmantle Chronicles and other animal fantasies-then lead them onward to Redwall Abbey. (Fantasy. 9-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061131011
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/22/2008
  • Series: Swordbird Series, #1
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.62 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Nancy Yi Fan is the New York Times bestselling author of Swordbird and Sword Quest. She appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show as one of the World's Smartest Kids and on The Martha Stewart Show. Nancy spent part of her childhood in China, where she was born in 1993. Birds have been a lifelong passion of hers and provided the inspiration for her novels. She began writing her first novel, Swordbird, when she was eleven years old. Nancy attends Harvard University.

Mark Zug has illustrated many collectible card games, including Magic: The Gathering and Dune, as well as books and magazines. He lives in Pennsylvania.

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Read an Excerpt


By Nancy Fan

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Nancy Fan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061131004

Darkness nourishes power.
--from the Book of Heresy



Beams of light fell through the trees, creating shadows that flecked the thick, moist undergrowth. Hidden in a patch of those shadows, a fortress was under construction. Many woodbirds had been captured and pinioned for this, and they worked wordlessly, carrying stones, clay, and sticks day after day. Usually a coal black crow could be found strutting among them. Whenever possible, he would spring on an unsuspecting victim with curses, yells, and a sound lashing. He was Bug-eye, the driver of the slavebirds, who carried a black leather whip the color of his feathers.

Through one sly golden eye, a red-brown hawk in dark robes observed the construction of his fortress. His name was Turnatt. Large for his kind, he towered over his captain and soldiers. With sharp claws for battling, a loud, commanding voice, and foul breath, he was a bird to be feared. His nasty habit of tapping an eye patch over his left eye while glaring with his right made the other birds shiver.

Turnatt had raided countless nests, camps, and homes, capturing woodbirds as slaves and bringing them to this secret, gloomy corner. Now the time had finally come: the building of Fortress Glooming. Sitting on a temporary throne, the hawk let thoughts of evil pleasure pass through his mind.As Turnatt watched the thin, helpless slavebirds' every movement, he tore into a roasted fish so messily that juices ran down his beak.

Slime-beak, Turnatt's captain, was hopping about, glancing at the trees bordering the half-built fortress. He dreaded Turnatt, for he worried about being made into a scapegoat.

Displeased, Turnatt stared down his beak at his ner-vous captain, his bright eye burning a hole into the bothersome crow's face.

"Stop hopping, Slimey--you're getting on my nerves. I'll demote you if you keep on doing that." A fish scale hung from the edge of Turnatt's beak.

Slime-beak shivered like a leaf, partly because of fear and partly because of the hawk's bad breath.

"Y-yes, milord. But it has been three days since Flea-screech and the soldiers went to look for new slaves. They still haven't returned!"

The hawk lord guffawed. The tail of the roasted fish fell from his beak and disappeared down the collar of his robe.

"Fool, who has ever heard of little woodbirds killing a crow? If you don't stop with that nonsense, I'll send you to get slaves! Now go and check the progress on my fortress. Then come back and report your news!" Turnatt waved the long, embroidered sleeve of his robe at the captain.

Slime-beak thought himself lucky that the hawk was in a good mood. Knowing Turnatt was fickle, Slime-beak dashed away.

Seeing the crow scurry off, dizzy and awkward, Turnatt tapped his covered eye in satisfaction. He chuckled, his glossy feathers shaking. His fierce yellow eye narrowed wickedly, becoming a slit. He was Lord Turnatt--the Evil, the Conqueror, the Slayer, and the Tyrant of soon-to-be Glooming. He thought about torturing woodbirds, killing others that got in his way. Nobird--nobird--could stop the mighty Turnatt. It would be as he had dreamed for seasons. He would rule the entire forest, with millions of slavebirds to bow down before him. Turnatt tilted his head back and let out a bloodcurdling screech that echoed throughout the forest. Slime-beak and the soldiers followed suit, their loud chants drowning out every other sound.

"Long live Lord Turnatt, long live the Tyrant of Fortress Glooming, long live the lord!"

Over the shouts, the sun rose above the treetops.

A forest split in two cannot stand.
--from the Old Scripture

Chapter One

The Red and the Blue

Just north of Stone-Run Forest, a war party of cardinals glided in and out of the shadows as the light of dawn slowly slipped into the sky. They traveled swiftly and low, each grimly wielding a sword in one claw. The leader, Flame-back, a sturdy cardinal distinguished by his larger and more powerful wings, reviewed their plan of attack.

"Circle the camp, wait for my signal, attack. Simple.

Everybird understand?" Crested heads bobbed in answer.

The idea of violence frightened a young cardinal, who wrapped his claw tightly around his sword hilt. "Flame-back, are the blue jays awake? If they are, we'll die! I don't want to die!"

Flame-back looked at the blurred land in the distance and, flapping his strong wings a couple of times, tried to reassure his band.

"The blue jays don't wake up so early, and nobird's going to die. Nobird's going to kill. Hear? We just scare and attack. No hurting." Pausing, Flame-back added in a more comforting tone, "And we must find our eggs. We can't let anybird, anybird at all, steal our unhatched offspring." The speech calmed his band, especially the youngster, whose wail dwindled to a sniff and a sob.

The cardinals were deep in thought. They all knew that Flame-back was right. There were no sounds except their wings, whooshing and rustling against the wind as they flew--red figures against a blue sky. They soared over the Appleby Hills and across the Silver Creek. Dewdrops trembled on delicate blades of grass; dandelions and daisies peeped over their leaves to greet the sun. Near the fringe of the forest, beech trees stood still, and only the morning breeze occasionally disturbed them. Those trees were ancient ones, covered with moss and vines, leaning over to touch branches with one another. Small creeks gurgled gently as they rippled along, under mists that covered the ground. But the cardinals were in no mood to enjoy such things. They were on a mission. The war party made a sharp turn along a boulder and flew over the Line, the border between the territories of the blue jays and the cardinals.

As they crossed, a twinge of uneasiness ran along every cardinal's spine. They were entering forbidden territory. But about a month before, it hadn't been. A month before, the cardinals and blue jays had been good friends. Their hatchlings had played with one another; they had fished for shrimp and hunted for crickets together. But things were different now. With a brisk flap of his wings Flame-back led his cardinals through a twist in a gap in the tangled trees.

"Lively now, lads. You all know what we're here for, so get ready. Fleet-tail, branch off with a third of our forces and go around to the left. You, take another third and go to the right. The rest, follow me. Swift and silent, good and low, friends."

In a flash the cardinals separated into three groups and departed into the shadows. After flying through a ghostly fog, the cardinals saw their destination. Eyes glistened and heartbeats quickened. With a few hushed words, the cardinals swiftly got into positions surrounding the blue jay camp. No feathers rustled. They sat as silent and rigid as statues, waiting for Flame-back's signal to attack.

The cardinals' target was ten budding oak trees hidden behind a tall, thick wall of pines. The oaks grew in a small meadow of early spring flowers and clover sparkling with dew. The pine tree border was so dense that one might fly right past it and not see the oak trees inside. It was indeed cleverly hidden. Those oaks were the home of the Bluewingle tribe.

It was very quiet. Occasionally a swish of feathers and breathing broke the silence. A strange long-limbed tree protruded from the center of the grove. In the branches of this tree a hushed exchange was taking place.

An elderly blue jay, Glenagh, shifted on his perch, his thin gray shoulders hunched up. Peering through the oak leaves, he could see a dim ray of light climbing up the ancient mountains.

How long can we go on fighting our old friends? the old blue jay wondered.

He turned abruptly to face his companion, Skylion. "How are you going to keep this 'war' up?" Glenagh asked. "Ever since you became the leader of the Bluewingles, we've been fighting the cardinals constantly." The old blue jay sighed. His feathers drooped. "You definitely do make your mind up faster than a falling acorn hits the ground."

Skylion turned his gaze toward the elder, Glenagh. "They used to be our friends--our family, almost," he said. The younger blue jay poured a cup of acorn tea for the elder with disbelief.

Shaking his graying head sadly, Glenagh accepted the tea with a worn claw. He gazed at his reflection in his cup with a dreary look. "Remember Fleet-tail? The cardinal who's always so quiet? Just last week I saw him with a raiding party, hollering and yelling like the rest."

"Well," Skylion replied hoarsely, "we have to regard the cardinals as enemies. Stealing and robbing--that's what they do now."

Leaves rustled as the wind changed direction.

"True, the cardinals have robbed us bare to our feathers, but we have done our share as well." Glenagh glanced again at the light outside. "The sack of pine seeds, the raisins, the bundles of roots, the apples . . . We've taken back more than what was stolen from us. We cannot say we aren't thieves."

Skylion hastily dismissed the idea. "Yes, but they stole our blueberries, our walnuts and honey! They stole the raspberries, the mushrooms, and more!" the blue jay leader argued. "We only took back food because we needed to survive. It's just spring. There's hardly any food you can gather outside. And what about our eggs? Our offspring. The next generation. Is there an explanation for that?"

"Peace is more important, Skylion." Glenagh shook his head and took a sip of acorn tea. "You do have a point about our eggs, but the cardinals declared that we stole their eggs and they didn't steal ours. I cannot believe that having been friends for so long, we have suddenly become enemies. Maybe they didn't steal from us; maybe somebird else did. We should go and talk with them about this."

"No, Glenagh. It would be a waste of time! We tried to talk before, but they only accused us of stealing from them first. You know that isn't true!" Skylion snorted.

"But Skylion, don't you--"

Skylion leaned forward. "Glenagh, can you stay calm and aloof when our eggs are snatched and stolen right from under our beaks? Of course not. We are fighting to get them back!"

Glenagh calmly looked at the leader, the steam of the tea brushing his face. He was silent for a few moments and then said, quite slowly, "Does fighting solve the problem?"

Skylion sighed deeply and shifted his glance to the wall, where there hung a painting of a white bird holding a sword. Though the painting was worn and the color faded, the picture still was as magnificent as ever. The bird seemed to smile at Skylion. Skylion almost imagined that the bird mouthed something to him.

Skylion whispered, "I wish Swordbird could come here to solve this."

"Ah, Swordbird . . ." Glenagh toyed with the name as a smile slowly lit up his face. "The mystical white bird, the son of the Great Spirit . . . He is a myth, but I know he exists. I know in my bones. Do you remember the story in the Old Scripture about a tribe of birds attacked by a python? They took out their Leasorn gem and performed a ritual to summon Swordbird. Immediately he came in a halo of light, and with a single flap of his great wings the python vanished into thin air." Glenagh paused. "Well," he said, "to call for Swordbird, we need a Leasorn gem. It's said to be a crystallized tear of the Great Spirit. But we don't have one. We have no idea where to find one either. So, it's what's in you and me that counts." Glenagh drained his cup, savoring the last drops.

Skylion opened his beak to reply, but he was interrupted by a frantic rustle of leaves. A young blue jay's head poked through, and in a high, nervous voice the youngster gave the message: "The cardinals! We are being attacked! We are being attacked!"


Excerpted from Swordbird by Nancy Fan Copyright © 2007 by Nancy Fan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 51 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 51 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2013

    Haven't read it. Don't plan to. Still nonetheless inspired.

    I'm a 13 year old guy and I've been longing to write a novel. My goal is to become a somewhat of a YA sci-fi/thriller author. I know i CAN do this if I keep revising. Just how Nancy Yi Fan inspired me to write a novel and get it published, I hope to be influential to kids and teens of all backgrounds and to just let them know that if they really wanted to then they can write a novel. 8)

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2013


    Great loved it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2015


    Sleeps in a hamic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2014

    Amazing book

    This a good book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2014

    Awrsome Book!!!!!!

    This is a great book if you love adventure and birds. This book is such a standout. Even if it wasn't writen by a twelve year old. (Which it was) Nancy is a great young writer's role model. My twelve year old daughter wants to be just like Nancy. A young New York Times best seller.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2014

    Is it long?

    Is it long? I pove books and i like them to be long.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2013

    Thank you nancy!!!

    I love your book and i hope that i can find more books that you wrote!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2013


    I wish i could give this book a gazillion stars!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2012

    Good sample

    Going to buy soon.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2012


    Really good

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2012


    This book is a great fantasty book for peoplr

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2011


    I luv this book,and as a twelve year old writer myself,i can appreciate the work nancy put into her writing.her success spurred me into starting my own series,wich i have not finished or published yet.anyway, i'm sure fantasy buffs like me will really enjoy swordbird.i hope ill get to meet nancy someday!she's my hero!

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  • Posted May 31, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Would be a good summer read

    Nancy Yi Fan was 11 when she started the book, 12 when it was published, so it makes sense that she wrote a story that is almost perfect for the 9-12 age range. Though at times the writing style is very simplistic, the plot is good. The story follows several groups of birds- slaves, soldiers, and feuding forest birds- as they struggle with the tyranny of Turnatt the hawk. In the book you'll find battles, quests, and sacrifice as the followers of Swordbird's ways fight the cruel and power-hungry bird of Fortress Glooming. The story has some gruesome but not graphic components, so even the squeamish readers can enjoy it. It would definitely make a good summer read for those not quite ready for the Redwall series yet.

    Also, I found this book to be better than its prequel (Sword Quest), so if you read Sword Quest and weren't quite satisfied, give this book a try.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2011

    Interesting Enough

    I will admit, this book isn't all I thought it would be. Although Nancy's story was entertaining, some of the scenes were to brief or easy. And the battles were to simple and not as realistic. I do like the descriptions though. Nancy made the scenes feel real. I wish she could have taken that and applied it to the conversations. The characters were very interesting and colorful. Nancy has been a real inspiration to me though, I am now writing my own story.

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  • Posted November 5, 2010

    Very Enjoyable!

    When my mom brought me this book i started to read it right away I was hooked I couldn't put it down! I was amazed at what she did and it inspired me to start to write many stories about animals myself! Genevieve age 9

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  • Posted July 24, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A great "for fun" read

    I read it when I was the same age as the age Nancy Yi Fan was when she wrote it and I'm not much older now. I think the story was wonderful and created a different picture about how people care about animals like birds that are put in risk. Although it was fiction, it still told the reader a message. I would love to read another book written by Nancy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2009

    Loved it!

    Nancy is amazing for just a young writer. I work in a high school media center & I shared information about her to all the teachers in the school. Students are coming to me and telling me they are going to write their own book. I love Nancy's characters as birds. I enjoy all the birds that visit me during the year and I give them names. She has made me appreciate them even more. Nancy teaches us good vs. evil & there is always hope.

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  • Posted January 2, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    An excellent book!

    I thought that Swordbird was a great book. At first when I saw it I couldn't believe that a girl so young could even publish a book! But even if Nancy Yi Fan was like, 50 or something, this book would still be one of my favorites!

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  • Posted November 24, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:


    Swordbird was okay but not nearly as good as the Arianna Kelt books, which are written by a 12-year-old too. What I liked better about Arianna Kelt is it is more realistic and fun to read.

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  • Posted November 17, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Carrie Spellman for TeensReadToo.com

    Not far outside of Stone-Run Forest an evil bird, Lord Turnatt, is gaining power. He's using slavebirds to build a fortress. And his thieving has caused the Cardinal and Blue Jay tribes to declare war on each other, even though they've been friends for a very long time. Little do the Cardinals and Blue Jays know that a much worse enemy is preparing an attack. <BR/><BR/>If the Cardinals and Blue Jays are going to survive, they'll need to work together. With help from unexpected friends, escaped prisoners, and the mythical Swordbird, they just might make it through, and defeat Lord Turnatt. It will take the talents and abilities of many to overpower evil. But if they can discover how to call Swordbird, they know they can survive. <BR/><BR/>SWORDBIRD is an animal adventure that's not just good versus evil, it's about faith and friendship, too. This book is fun and easy for younger kids, especially since the author is (or was when she wrote it) a twelve-year-old girl!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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