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Thursday, November 23, 2017

King of the Sky, written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Laura Carlin. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $22.99 ages 5 and up

"Mr. Evans showed me how to catch the birds and slip them into a basket. Then, we'd wheel the basket to the station in a barrow.
"How far today, then, Mr. Evans?" the stationmaster would ask. My friend would name a station up the line:"

Moving can be a very trying experience for everyone involved. The young boy who has just moved from Rome to Britain feels homesick every day. Nothing is familiar, and he assumes the stance of an outsider.

Only one thing brings comfort and a reminder of home. Mr. Evans is a neighbor; he has racing pigeons that look like the ones in Rome. Mr. Evans may be old and a bit unsteady, but he loves those birds. His life in the mines brings a rich appreciation for their freedom and beauty. He is a willing teacher to a young boy in need of a friend, and some distraction.

As he learns about the birds and watches Mr. Evans training them to fly to various stations up the train line, the boy is patient and engrossed. Once the birds are released, the two go to Mr. Evans' home to wait. They always come back. The pigeons are an impressive lot.

As his new friend's health declines, the boy plays a larger role in the training of the birds.

"By racing season he couldn't leave his bed.
So I put the race rings on the pigeons' legs
and took them to the station.
I scoured the sky for their return and checked them in."

Mr. Evans has big plans for the bird with 'the milk-white head': the bird he has given to his young and eager friend. Can the bird make the long journey back from Rome? Is it possible? Might Rome prove irresistible with its sunlight, its fountains and its alluring ice cream aromas?

Loneliness, home and friendship are at the heart of this emotional book by the exceptional Nicola Davies. Laura Carlin's mixed media artwork is as quiet and telling as the story itself, while allowing readers to see the local surroundings and the boy's family life, as well of the beauty of the birds themselves.

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