Blue Birds

Blue Birds

by Caroline Starr Rose
Blue Birds

Blue Birds

by Caroline Starr Rose


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Author of the critically acclaimed May B. returns with a stirring novel in verse.

Alis and her parents make the long journey from England to settle the New World. But it doesn't go as planned and Alis, her parents, and the others of their small community soon find themselves at odds with the Roanoke tribe. As tensions rise between the settlers and the Native peoples, twelve-year-old Alis forms an impossible friendship with a Roanoke named Kimi. Despite language barriers, the two become as close as sisters, risking their lives for one another until Alis makes a decision that will change her life forever.

“An excellent historical offering and belongs on public and school library shelves.”—VOYA

“With two compelling main characters and an abundance of rich historical detail, Rose’s latest novel offers much to discuss and much to appreciate.”—School Library Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780147511874
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/05/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 266,295
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 10 - 12 Years

About the Author

Caroline Starr Rose ( is the author of critically acclaimed May B. Blue Birds is her second novel. She's taught both social studies and English in New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and Louisiana. In her classroom she worked to instill in her students a passion for books, an enthusiasm to experiment with words, and a curiosity about the past. Caroline lives in New Mexico with her husband and two sons.

Follow her on Twitter @CStarrRose .

Read an Excerpt

July 1587


Almost three months we’ve journeyed,

each wave pushing us farther

from London,

every day moving us closer

to Virginia.

But now we’re anchored on sandy banks

in a place we’re not to be.

The enormity of our circumstance

comes crashing down around us.

Though this is Virginia,

it’s not our new home.

We will be forced ashore

miles from where

our pilot, Ferdinando,

promised to take us.

Yet our Governor

does nothing to stop him.


How ready I am to leave this ship,

stretch my legs, be free!

But not like this,

tossed out

like yesterday’s rubbish.

Father stands in the pinnace,

holds his hand to me.

“Come, Alis.”

I step into the smaller boat,

less steady,

less sturdy.

Mother eases in,

cradling her belly,

perspiration at her temples,

her once-starched collar

dingy and askew.

“What will we do?” Mother whispers.

Her cheek rests on Father’s shoulder.

“How will we reach the land

that’s been promised us?”

“We’ll find my brother and his men.”


I grasp the wooden bird

in my pocket.

I did not dream

of seeing him so soon.

Surely he and the other soldiers

will set things right,

speak sense to Ferdinando.

Maybe he has already

caught sight of the boats,

will welcome us onshore.


Before me is a place

few Englishmen have ever seen.

I lean over the bow,

try to will the pinnace faster

to trees pointing heavenward,

a flock of cranes rippling the sky.

Mother grasps my plait,

gives my hair a tug.

“Careful,” she says.

The boat cuts through the water

as wind snaps our sails,

rocks us with each wave

toward land heavy with trees,

thick with darkness.

The mysterious island,



The pinnace drops anchor,

and that savage, Manteo,

offers me his hand,

the Indian who came to England

with the Governor

after his first voyage here.

I shake my head,

for even though he’s lived in London

and dresses as we do,

I’ve seen the hair as long as a woman’s

he hides underneath his hat.

I will not let him touch me.

My steps are uncertain

after our ocean crossing,

and when I stumble in the sand,

I ignore Manteo’s amused smile,

choose not to stand but sit and watch

the scramble of people,

the rising tide,

the pinnace already making its way

back to the ships

for the last of us.

I scan the banks for Uncle Samuel,

but he is nowhere.


The Governor bids us to follow him

across the sandy beach.

Marsh grass swishes against my skirts.

London’s crowded streets

smelled of rot and filth.

I’d hold my breath,

race my friend

down Fish Street to London Bridge.

Neither Joan nor I ever made it

without pulling in deep gulps of air

as putrid as death.


damp wood mingles

with the warm sea breeze.

The forest rises up,

takes us in,

and in the woods,

scattered all around,

pink flowers,

starred yellow in their centers,

tremble with each footstep.

I pluck a jaunty bloom,

tuck it behind my ear.

Even on summer days

the London light was weak,

fighting soot and drizzling clouds.


sunlit patches

cut through highest branches,

a brilliant red bird wings above.

Her sharp notes climb up,

spiral down.

In London stray dogs roam in mangy coats

scrounging for a scrap of meat.


waves lap the shore,

crabs dance across the sand,

berry bushes reach as high

as entryways at Bishop’s Gate.

What a strange and wondrous place!


They crash through the forest.

I crouch behind trees,


as they


through underbrush.

Never did I think

these strange ones would return.

Yet here they are again.

Some think

they are spirits back from the dead.

Some say

they have invisible weapons

that strike with sickness after they’ve gone.


said they were people

like us, only

with different ways.

But how can I believe him?


is dead.



people gather in a clearing.

We must be near the settlement

where a few soldiers

lay claim for England.

Last year,

when Uncle left us,

he promised we wouldn’t long be parted.

After his time in the Queen’s service,

he’d be home again.

How surprised he’ll be

to learn we’ve come!

I want to run ahead,

clutch him in a hug,

show him how faithfully

I’ve kept his wooden bird.

But my legs are unsteady.

Surely Mother needs me near.

The baby we await

fatigues her so easily.

Her face is worn.

Her golden hair

tumbles loose about her shoulders,

and I lace my arm through hers,

maybe hurry her more than she would wish,

but gently,

so as not to tire her more.

Governor White and his assistants draw together.

All about us

words clash and climb

until the Governor calls for silence.

Two men break away from the Governor’s side.

He says they’ll go ahead,

enter the settlement through the gate.

Even though I shouldn’t,

I release Mother’s arm,

drop my bundle at her feet.

“Alis!” she calls,

but I pretend I cannot hear her,

for I must find Uncle.

I skirt the crowd.

A fluttering blue bird draws me—

one with plumes as lavish as a gown.

I pray it leads me to him,

my uncle,

who knows so much of wild things,

but the bird escapes me.


I’ve run

far beyond the others.


I’ve reached a ditch

encircling an earthen barrier—

one ring inside another,

like the moat surrounding London Wall.

It isn’t hard to slip down the ditch’s side,

scale the embankment within,

and I’m in the settlement—

if this place could be called that—

with homes empty,

deer wandering through open doors,

vines twisting about windows.

Two of our men walk about,

one towering over the other,

whose nose is a mountain

of lumps and bumps.

I step back from view,


fall into a heap of ash,

the charred remains of a building.

A scream

claws at my throat.

Bleached bones

litter the ground.





I clutch my skirts,

run back

to the others.


I slip into the crowd,

careful to keep near its edge,

where I won’t be so easily seen.

But no one has noticed my absence,

for all are focused on Governor White.

Twice he’s come to Virginia

to map the land,

paint the creatures who live here,

determine where our city would someday be.

Our Governor knows this island

better than any Englishman,

and remembering this brings relief.

We are secure

with him near.

“George Howe Sr. and Roger Bailie

have surveyed the settlement,” he says.

“It has been


for some



someone shouts.

“What of the soldiers?”

another says.

A woman wails.

“Who will help us now?”

Those bones were nothing more

than seashells, I tell myself,

the remnants of a deer.

The Governor’s beard is grayer

than when we first left England.

He worries his cap in his hands.

“We are unsure what has happened,” he says.

The enormous man

I saw within the settlement

whispers to the Governor.

I see him stiffen.

“Mr. Howe says

there is a building


to its foundation,”

Governor White says slowly,



of a


Uncle is safe,

I think the same words over and over,

trying to unsee, unhear

this horror.

But dread surges through me.

The Governor knows nothing

more than the rest of us.

The Governor studies his daughter,

Mrs. Dare, heavy with child.

“Ferdinando’s promised

to leave us the pinnace.

For now we will rebuild,

stay through the fall and winter,

and when spring comes,

we’ll sail to Chesapeake

and establish the City of Ralegh.”

Father’s eyes are troubled.

“Someone is dead.

Does this not concern you?

And what of the other soldiers?

Surely we should search for them.”

The Indian speaks.

“Perhaps my people know something.

They live on Croatoan,

not far from here.”

The Governor nods his head

too vigorously.

Father presses his lips together.

I know how he thinks:

The Governor’s too hasty

to claim the pinnace.

He should force Ferdinando to take us farther.

He’s too quick

to trust the soldiers are elsewhere, safe.

“Mr. Howe will lead us in,” Governor White says.

The other assistants step aside.

Mr. Howe,

with fingers big as sausages, points ahead.

He strides toward the village,

where Uncle

is meant to be.

The deer scatter.

The abandoned buildings

hold fast their secrets.


My thoughts fly to Mother.

I scold myself for leaving her

with two sets of things to carry

and push back through the throng

until I’m outside the village again.

The sun has brightened her cheeks;

she tries to pin her hair.

“Mother!” I shout,

and she looks to me.

“Where have you been?

And what’s this on your skirt?”

She dusts my dress,

shaking her head,

ushers me to the settlement.

I touch my ear,

discover my flower is missing.

Over my shoulder,

I study the ground behind me.

In the midst of the forest,

something shifts

like a branch might in a breeze.

A shadow flits between the trees.

This is no bird.

No wind stirs the leaves.



in the woods.



have there been

women or children.

The first men, they came

with tools and gifts, left

with Wanchese and Manteo

journeying to their distant world.

The second ones came

with friendship that turned bitter,

with illness,

with drought,

eating our seed corn,

beheading Father,


our weroance,

leader of the Roanoke.

The third ones,

so few in number,

weren’t here long

before Wanchese did away with them.

I’ve always thought

they were a people

of only men.


The woman

embraces one

who must be

her daughter.

How plain they are!

No copper at their ears.

I touch the pearls about my neck,

their beauty still new to me.

The girl turns her head,

her eyes,

light as the rain-rinsed sky,

search the wood.

I step back




A woman.

Her daughter.

Holding each other.


my sister,

what would you think

to see the English

act so tenderly?


The settlement is not remarkable—

a tiny village flanked with four earthen walls,

one with the gate,

the other three with stations,

like turrets on a castle.

Inside we find

last year’s forgotten garden

and empty animal pens,

a small collection of cottages

set about an open square,

a large building used as barracks

by the soldiers sent to claim this land,

England’s presence in the New World.

Beyond these buildings are

a jail,

a chapel,

the armory,

farther still the forge.

Though most structures are intact,

neglect has left its mark.

More homes must be erected

for the families here.

After a hasty service,

the bones are covered in a grave.

Men cart the scorched remains

of the burned building,

where the soldiers stored provisions.

Some of the boys hack at the vines

encircling the abandoned cottages.

In the square,

the women cluster in a knot.

“For months, the Governor

never spoke against that Ferdinando,”

pinched-lipped Mrs. Archard says.

“And we’re the ones who have to pay.

The Governor should have forced him

to stop at those nearby islands

for the livestock and fruit he promised.

The Governor should have refused

to leave the ship,

insisted we sail to Chesapeake.”

“But we cannot change that now,” Mrs. Dare says,

and I study her rounded frame.

When will her baby join us:

before or after Mother’s child comes?

“I wonder if our spiteful pilot

will let us gather all our things,” Mrs. Archard says.

“Weeks it took to pack those ships.

Weeks again we’ll need.

I wouldn’t be a mite surprised

if he sailed away come nightfall.”

Mother touches Mrs. Archard’s arm.

“The Governor will make things right,” Mother says,

but the woman’s face loses none of its harsh angles.

She tries to comfort Mrs. Archard,

but I’m the one

who needs her reassurance.

Uncle Samuel,

Father’s only brother,

has lived with us forever.

This year apart is the only one

I’ve ever known without him.

Where has he gone?

Only bones

were here

to greet us.

Two boys scuffle over an axe,

another carries vines that spill from his arms.

The vine boy’s eyes find mine;

swift as a pickpocket,

he moves away.

I linger, observing him,

his head a mess of curls.

Everywhere I look

it’s men,



There is

no one


like me.

And Uncle,

the one

so dear to me,

has disappeared.

“Alis?” Mother calls.

She’s gone ahead,

bustling toward the buildings.

No word of tenderness,

no glance that says she shares my worries.

“Please gather our things.”

I reach for our bundles,

hug them to my chest so tightly,

no one can hear me cry.


We find Father bent over a fire

in the ironmonger’s shed,

already working metal

salvaged from the ruins.

His hammer sings,

high and piercing,

and I run to him,

fold into him.

He drops his hammer,

pulls Mother close,

and the three of us huddle

as a flurry of activity

continues outside.

“We are here.

We are safe.

We will find Samuel,” he says.


I clutch my wooden bird,

one of the three Uncle whittled

just before he left,

the second safe with Joan,

the last one his own.


“It’s a bird of Virginia,” Uncle said.

His hands pressed the carving into mine.

Though its wooden body is brown as a sparrow’s,

I imagine sapphire wings,

a patch of rust spread above its curved white middle,

just like the painting Uncle has described.

The graceful bird,

its wings rest so daintily.

This Uncle Samuel promised me:

Birds return home

no matter how far they fly.

One set free might wander

but will eventually rejoin his flock.

At first,

I believed this was Uncle’s pledge

to return to me,

but when Father said we too

would go to Virginia,

I thought of this:

What if a flight of birds

followed the wandering one,

joining him on a journey

entirely new?

Since setting sail

my secret wish has been

that Uncle’s joy

would be so great,

he’d forget England

when his service was done.

Instead he’d make his home Virginia,


to the City of Ralegh,

to us,

his family.


The whispers among my people began

the first time the English came.

They grew to angered shouts:

The English have great power,

mightier than we have seen

in the agile deer,

the arrows of our enemies,

the angry hurricane.

Able to blot out the sun.


I run the well-worn path

beyond the stalks of beans and corn,

through the slender poles of the palisade,

past the longhouses

to Wanchese.


Excerpted from "Blue Birds"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Caroline Starr Rose.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Young Readers Group.
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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Praise for BLUE BIRDS:

“Composed in varying formats, the descriptive and finely crafted poems reveal the similarities the two girls share, from loved ones lost to hatred between the English and the Roanoke to a desire for peace… Fans of Karen Hesse and the author's May B. (2012) will delight in this offering.”—Kirkus Reviews

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