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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bird, written by Zetta Elliott and illustrated by Shadra Strickland. Lee & Low Books, 2008. $21.95 ages 8 and up

``I didn`t know how to fix Marcus, so I left my drawing on the floor and went back to my room. The only people I ever saw shaking and sweating like that were the crazy people in the park. Mama called them addicts. Grandad  called them junkies. Papa said to stay away from them `cause people like that would do just about anything to get more drugs.``

So much has changed for Mehkai and his family. He is called Bird because he reminded his family of one when he was a baby. Now, he spends his time drawing them. It is his brother Marcus who helped Bird learn to draw.  His grandfather died last year and Marcus is sick. It is Uncle Son, an old friend of his beloved Grandad who consoles him and helps him deal with his aching heart.

The drawing also helps:

"That's what I like about drawing -
you can fix stuff that's messed up
just by using your imagination
or rubbing your eraser
over the page."

 There is safety and security in doing what he does well; and, it connects him to Marcus. He does much learning about the world he lives in, and the people who make a difference in his life. Grandad was his rock, and now Uncle Son fills the same role, visiting weekly and taking Bird to the park:

"I like talking to Uncle Son
'cause he treats me like I'm grown,
not like I'm some little kid
who can't understand anything."

He begins to realize what is happening to his older brother and that he can do little to change the choices that Marcus makes. He loves him just the same, and misses him when he is gone. With the help of Uncle Son, his parents and his love for drawing, Bird is making his way in the world, wiser, stronger and ready to soar like the birds he so admires.

Of her book, Zetta Elliott says:

" We teach children to “just say no,” but we don’t always give them the tools they need to understand addiction. I felt a picture book could promote discussion between children and adults. I definitely see parents reading this book with a lot of conversation—it’s okay to stop reading and start talking! Give the child an opportunity to ask questions or express emotions. When we demystify things such as drug addiction, we empower children to make better choices."

Shadra Strickland brings Bird's world to us in her drawings of his urban environs. She infuses the pages with light and is attentive to detail that give readers an authentic feel for the joy and pain that Bird and his family experience. The birds soar, the trees sway, the pond provides refuge for Uncle Son and Bird as they discuss the worries and the wonders of their world.

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