Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Ever-After Bird by Ann Rinaldi

Here's a book review I wrote for the Historical Novel Society:
During a panel discussion on children's books at an HNS Conference a few years ago, my suspicions were confirmed that the term “young adult” is now a pseudonym for “anything goes” in children’s literature, sometimes a concern for parents of precocious readers.  You might wish to peruse this book to check its appropriateness for your younger reader, but be warned: you may well find yourself settling down to read it from start to finish. 

This is a coming of age story, set mainly in the 1850s South.  After the death of her abusive, abolitionist father, thirteen year-old CeCe finds herself under the wardship of her Uncle, a doctor and ornithologist.  In the company of his African American assistant, Earline, who masquerades as a slave, Uncle Alex takes CeCe on an expedition to Georgia in search of the rare scarlet ibis – and to help slaves begin the journey to freedom on the Underground Railroad, an activity CeCe wants no part of.  However, as they travel across Georgia’s plantations, CeCe’s experiences force her to reevaluate her perceptions  - not only of slavery, but of relationships between one human being and another.

  As a teacher as well as a parent, I was impressed with the sensitivity and appropriateness of Rinaldi’s approach to her subject.  She juxtaposes CeCe’s gradual understanding of the horrors of slavery with her discovery of the tenderness that can exist in a father-daughter relationship.  The recurring imagery of birds as symbols of freedom, while conventional, also works well at this level; even young readers will appreciate the irony of Uncle Alex’s caging and shooting birds while pointing slaves to freedom.  Although several minor Southern characters are somewhat stereotyped, the main characters are complex and challenge the typical racial and moral images of this era.  A book at once compelling and tender, highly recommended for mature younger readers to adults.

The Ever-After Bird is published by Harcourt (2007).

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