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Monday, February 27, 2017

The King of the Birds, written by Acree Graham Macam and illustrated by Natalie Nelson. Groundwood Books, 2016. $17.95 ages 5 and up

"You think you got
enough birds?" the boy
from next door asked.
Flannery shrugged.
"Not really." Life
was still a little too

A peacock
would be more exciting
than a thousand birds!"

Flannery O'Connor's penchant for all birds was evident in her early years. She even taught a chicken to walk backward - it already knew how to walk forward. Her skill gained her some fame. It was fleeing. She needed more. What if she had more birds?

"She collected her savings and bought one
of every type she could find."

They were willing workers; she was not totally satisfied. She wanted a peacock. Of course, she had to work for it. Soon, she was picking him up at the train station. Making him the 'in charge' leader of all birds didn't help when it came to showing off his tail. He just didn't feel compelled to do so!

Flannery tried to convince him using every ploy she could dream up. Nothing enticed him out of his complete disinterest. Would it always be so? No, indeed. Flannery finally hit upon the solution. Life did not remain quiet for long!

Natalie Nelson creates a bevy of birds in illustrations done with 'hand-painted paper, drawings and found photography, compiled digitally into collage' - and she does it wonderfully. From the splendid front endpapers to the book's end, she shows the birds with expression and personality.

She had this to say about the art in an interview with Twenty by Jenny:

"For this book, I painted a bunch of papers (with gouache paint) in the colors I wanted to use. Then, I scanned the painted papers into the computer and used Photoshop to cut out the various shapes to create all the characters and scenes. I also sprinkled in some cutouts of found photography, which is something I try to do in all of my work. In the end, I wanted the art to feel both modern and vintage, to tie the story back to the era Flannery really lived in."
Kids who know nothing about author Flannery O'Connor will not be bothered by this fact. They will find here an interesting young girl, whose love of birds is fully on display. There is a short note at the back of the book that speaks to the inspiration for this lively tale. One of Flannery's essays was called "King of the Birds" and was published in a collection called Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1969).

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