This is a book where the illustrations and text go so perfectly together I assumed it was by an author/illustrator. But no, it’s a beautiful collaboration.
Bird is the title of the book, but not just because it’s the nickname of the main character who narrates it.
(click image(s) to enlarge)
Bird draws a pigeon outside his window. He and his Uncle Son go the park and feed pigeons. His Uncle Son and Grandfather flew planes in the war, flew like birds. Uncle Son plays Charlie Parker, “the other bird,” in his apartment. The boy watches birds flying from his rooftop and, one important time, his older brother gives him a book of birds.
“You just remember,
everybody got their somethin’.
And that includes you.”
But there’s also the idea of a bird. Of freedom, of flying.
And even flying away, as in death.
They boy’s older brother, Marcus, is in trouble. With drugs. He only flies away like a bird after struggle and death.
Bird is a book about drug addiction and losing someone you love and who loved you. But it’s also a book about growing up and, thankfully, hope.
Strickland’s illustrations are apropos. Dark, then light. Layered. Imaginative, then realistic. Line drawings like the one Bird makes. Watercolors of city scenes.
“You can fix a broken wing with a splint,
and a bird can fly again,” he said.
“But you can’t fix a broken soul.”
And when you’re lucky enough to get your hands on this book, do take a long look at the spread on which Uncle Son and the narrator discuss their favorite birds. Look for the red specks in the trees, each a cardinal that “looks like a fiery spark blowing through the trees.” Just like a fiery spark of hope in the gloom.
Thanks to Lee and Low Books for images!