Gr 1-4-- Young Birdy pays the orphan master her birthday shilling to rescue a raggedy boy named Matthew. The next morning, she is amazed to hear the lad singing a song without words, too beautiful to be believed. The parson agrees to tutor him to sing Sunday music and soon his angelic voice is enchanting the village folk and all living creatures. When Matthew disappears, Birdy suspects that he has been stolen. She calls the seal-queen, a ``half-and-half kind'' of creature, up from the sea and strikes a hard bargain with her--the parson must teach one of her pups to sing in return for Matthew's release. It's a struggle transporting the reluctant student to the church and instructing him. When Pagan finally sings, his song conjures up all things dark and terrifying, but is nonetheless beautiful. Together Matthew and Pagan's voices produce a sound so wondrous that listeners can grasp the whole world in their minds. The lyrical text evokes the music of the sea, as do the half-page watercolor paintings in shades of aqua, blue, and shell tones alternating with fog gray. And, in the best folklore tradition, there is a satisfying happy ending to this lovely, quiet story. --Virginia Opocensky, formerly at Lincoln City Libraries, NE
ger for reading aloud. British author Walsh tells an unusual and strange tale in which a raggedy young orphan boy named Matthew is bought from the orphan master for a shilling by a girl called Birdy. Birdy soon discovers that Matthew has a lovely but untrained voice, so she takes him to the parson, who teaches Matthew to sing so beautifully that all who hear him are reminded of the happiest, most wonderful and comforting things in life. But one day, Matthew is taken deep down to the bottom of the sea by the seal-queen, whose own child can only make horrible screeching noises when it tries to sing. Birdy wants Matthew back, but the seal-queen won't surrender him unless the seal-child is taught to sing as beautifully as Matthew sings. Walsh tells a wonderfully imaginative, humorous, and thoroughly enchanting story, which sounds as if it were part legend, part myth, and part nonsense made up by white-whiskered old men sitting in front of blazing fires. Marks' illustrations, drawn with great good humor and a fine eye for detail, are a perfect complement to the story.