Jan 14, 2012

Elsie's Bird

Elsie's Bird by Jane Yolen
Illustrated by David Small
Published by Philomel Books

     Elsie is a city girl. She loves the sounds of the Boston Harbor, the songs of the birds and children, the sound of the horses' hooves on the stone cobbled streets. But when her mother dies, her father needed a fresh start and decided to go somewhere "far away from Boston and the sadness in his heart," to Nebraska.  Elsie brought along her birdcage with her new canary, Timmy Tune, and during the long train ride, bird and girl sang to one another.
     When they get to Nebraska, Elsie's unhappy. Her house was made of sod and there were no other houses around hers. "Here there is only grass and sky and silence." "The only sound at night was her own crying in her little bed, but she didn't let Papa know." Elsie spends her days within the walls of her new home, never hearing the sounds of the grasslands, the crickets and grasshoppers singing at night, the rain pounding the roof. She just dreamed of the sound of her Boston cobbled streets. She was afraid that if she left her house, she would "lose herself in the silence of the prairie."  But one day, her canary flies away and Elsie heads out to run along the tall grass looking for Timmy Tune.  It's during this journey to find the bird, that Elsie's heart and ears finally open to the beauty of the plains.
     Elsie's Bird brought me back to my childhood reading and watching The Little House on the Prairie.  The language is so beautiful, I found myself rereading whole passages.  And the illustrations by David Small in brush and ink with watercolor and pastel are captivating.  I loved Elsie. This is the rare kind of picture book that manages in a short time to make you care about the characters as much as a chapter book. Such a great find! 

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