A Little Bird That Soars

Take the sunflower-gold path on a clear day and you, too, might discover some tiny treasure that will reveal the world in a new light.

In Germano Zullo’s fresh, surprisingly powerful picture book Little Bird, readers trace one man’s unusual day, as he drives his tomato-red truck down a golden path and then parks it beside a cliff. We do not know why he drives to that cliff or how he comes to be transporting his odd cargo. Without speaking, the pear-shaped fellow in blue overalls opens the truck’s backdoor to free an iridescent flock of birds.

After watching the last of the birds soar through the azure sky, the man discovers one blackbird remains in the truck’s dark interior. The day that appeared to mark the birds’ liberty seems to contain something more:

“just a small thing.
Tiny.
Most of the time we don’t notice these things.
Because little things are not made to be noticed.
They are there to be discovered.”

A bright full-page painting shows the man and a blackbird sharing a sandwich. Then a humorous double-spread illustration shows the man trying to persuade the bird to fly by imitating a bird in flight. That effort, of course, lands him flat on the ground. Soon the bird takes to the sky, and it seems the man has fulfilled his goal.

Again the unexpected arrives. Not only the blackbird, but also the whole flock returns. Higher and higher, they lift the man who freed them so he, too, can taste the wild blue heavens.

Albertine’s illustrations, which won the 2011 Prix Sorcieres (the French Caldecott), shimmer with pure, saturated colors. Featuring simple images and a sure sense of movement, the bright paintings lift this story to delightful heights. Little Bird is a children’s book that can be experienced on numerous levels by readers of all ages, especially as the visual acrobatics reveal as much as the minimal text. The inspired synergy of author and illustrator evokes a lovely excerpt from e.e. cummings’s poem 53: “may my heart always be open to little/birds who are the secrets of living.”

Children will relate to this dazzling little book in their own ways, while adults will marvel that the author and illustrator have expressed so much joy with so few words.

Reprinted with permission from New York Journal of Books

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