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Friday, March 17, 2017

Lila and the Crow, by Gabrielle Grimard. Annick Press, 2016. $21.95 ages 5 and up

"The third day, Lila goes to school wearing her cap and a sweater with a very, very high neck that she pulls up over her chin. Nathan peers at her for a moment. Then he shouts: "A crow! A crow! The new girl's eyes are dark like a crow!" A few others laugh, quietly at first. Then more children ... "

Wouldn't it be lovely if there was some sort of magical solution that led to the end of bullying at school, in the workplace, on the street and in the home? No matter how we try, it is very difficult to bring that kind of behavior to an end. One of the ways I think we can help all people understand its impact is through story. Encouraging empathy toward those characters children meet in the stories we share is a step toward understanding and change.

Lila is a beautiful little girl who is new to her school. She is very excited to be there. The fact that she doesn't look 'the same' as the others is just the impetus needed for one of her classmates to begin making fun of her and results in bullying behavior. They call her a crow because of her dark hair, dark eyes and shade darker skin.

"On the way home, Lila's heart is heavy as a stone.
A crow perches on the branch of an old oak tree,
its feathers as black as Lila's hair.

It caws and croaks as if it wants to tell
her something, but Lila just walks by."

It is not unusual at all that Lila tries to make herself less visible. She does so by wearing a knit cap. Nathan does not let up. Not do those who follow like sheep. A sweater with a high neck does nothing to deter his taunting the following day, nor do dark glasses.

"She plays alone at recess and sits
by herself at lunch. After school,
she runs home as quickly as she can."

Weeks pass, the crow that keeps her company on her way home from school is still there ... finally, after a fall that has her seeing it face to face, Lila is surprised:

"She's surprised to see how beautiful its black feathers are, highlighted with purple. There's softness
in the eyes of the creature watching her ... "

With unwitting help from the crow and its flock, Lila is able to find a solution to the sadness she has been feeling and the treatment she has been receiving ... just in time for the 'great autumn festival'.

The images created in watercolor by Gabrielle Grimard are perfectly in keeping with the story told.
Lila's red dress ensures that the readers' attention is always focused on her, her reactions, her movements. We note the isolation she consistently feels, and also her resilience. It is so important for kids to be proud of who they are and of what makes them special. Any book that helps one child see that can be an inspiration to others. Will it make those who hear it kinder? We can only hope that it does.

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