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Tag Archives | Alison McGhee

Pablo and Birdy

 

There are books I read with my eyes leak­ing begin­ning to end. Count­ing by Sevens…Swallows and Amazons…The View From Saturday…Because of Winn Dixie…Orbiting Jupiter…. I don’t mean to say these books make me cry — that’s anoth­er cat­e­go­ry, the ones that make you ugly cry so you can’t read it out­loud. Rather, these leaky-eye books are sto­ries read through a watery prism from the first page on. I nev­er sob or snif­fle, I just wipe at my eyes with my sleeve for the entire length of the book. If I read them aloud to my kids when they were lit­tle, they com­ment­ed. “Mom­my, are you cry­ing?” And I quite cheer­ful­ly could say, “Not exact­ly. This one just makes my eyes leak.”

It’s like the book fills my heart to such an extent — With what? Won­der? Beau­ty? Grat­i­tude? Bit­ter­sweet­ness? Truth? — that some­thing has to over­flow. And that some­thing is my eyes, I guess. I love many many books, but the eye leak­ers are in a spe­cial cat­e­go­ry unto themselves.

Ali­son McGhee’s Pablo and Birdy joined the list most recent­ly. I knew from the first line.

Ready Birdy?” Pablo said, and he held out his fin­ger for her. “Up you go.”

This is the sto­ry of a boy named Pablo who washed up on the beach in an inflat­able swim­ming pool as a baby. Birdy is the par­rot who was found cling­ing to the ropes that held Pablo safe. The book opens as Pablo is turn­ing ten. He is sur­round­ed by the love of an eccen­tric group of islanders who try to pro­tect him from the sto­ry of his past for which they have no answers. But that doesn’t mean Pablo doesn’t have questions.

Birdy is a flight­less and voice­less par­rot. She is laven­der-feath­ered and man­go-scent­ed and the bond she has with her Pablo is a fierce one. Their rela­tion­ship is large­ly respon­si­ble for my leak­ing eyes.

There are slap­sticky fun­ny moments as well as sad and wor­ri­some moments in Pablo and Birdy. There’s an eclec­tic cast, human and not, includ­ing the Com­mit­tee, a group of rag-tag island birds who com­ment on all of the goings-on. Also a pas­try-steal­ing dog thread that can break your heart. And through it all, there is the mys­te­ri­ous myth of the sea­far­ing par­rot who knows and can repro­duce all of the sounds of the world that have ever been made.

A strange wind blows in dur­ing the events of this nov­el. Island wis­dom holds that “the winds of change mean for­tune lost or for­tune gained.” As Pablo says at the end, it’s not always easy to tell what has been lost and/or gained. That’s fun­da­men­tal­ly what the sto­ry is about, I think — that elu­sive and/or — and as such, it is a beau­ti­ful one to press into the hands of kids you love.

Two of my nieces turn eleven this spring. They each bear a slight resem­blance to Pablo in dif­fer­ent ways — and they are loved just as fierce­ly by we, their “islanders.” There is still space in their heads, hearts, and lives for won­der and imag­i­na­tion, which is the only thing this book requires. I’ll even go as far as to say this book can restore won­der and imag­i­na­tion if it’s on the way out. They’re both get­ting a signed copy for their birth­days—shh­hh don’t tell! I don’t know if their eyes will leak or not. But I’ve dreamt of read­ing it with each of them — leaky eyes and all — and I think they’ll love it.

 

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Bink and Gollie

Ear­ly this morn­ing I read Bink and Gol­lie books to my nieces. We were killing timeBink&Golliebook-180pix while their par­ents picked up the rental car for their Great Amer­i­can Sum­mer Road­trip. To say that the lev­el of excite­ment was pal­pa­ble is an under­state­ment — it was a wave that near­ly knocked me down when they opened their door. They talked — both of them — non­stop for an hour while we sipped our break­fast smoothies.

Mom and Dad were not back when we sucked down the final drops of smooth­ie, which was con­cern­ing, so anx­ious were they to get on the road already. I said, “Well, what can we do…that we can put down if your Mom and Dad come back in two minutes…and pick back up after your trip?”

Books!” said one.

YEAH — WE CAN READ BOOKS!” said the other.

On the deck!”

In the sunshine!”

Let’s do it!”

And so we took Bink and Gol­lie with us to the sun­ny deck. No mat­ter how excit­ed these sweet girls get — and let me tell you, they were excit­ed this morn­ing! — they calm down instant­ly with a book. Their breath­ing changes by page two. And so we snug­gled up and read, breath­ing deeply in the ear­ly morn­ing sunshine.

I’d for­got­ten how much of the sto­ry is told in the pic­tures in Bink and Gol­lie books — and how many words are in the pic­tures. Labels and instruc­tions, signs and notes, jokes and fun. Because both girls are learn­ing to read, this works real­ly well. I read the sto­ry itself and they read the pic­tures. The pic­tures are often filled with big words. (So is the sto­ry itself — it’s some­thing I appre­ci­ate about Kate DiCamillo’s and Ali­son McGhee’s writ­ing. They do not sim­pli­fy vocab­u­lary.) Some things we have to sound out togeth­er, but the real fun is get­ting the inflec­tion right. Read­ing it in our Gol­lie voice, or like a 1940’s radio adver­tise­ment, or like a car­ni­val barker.

Bink and Gol­lie are oppo­sites in many ways — Gol­lie is tall and skin­ny, prag­mat­icBink&Gollie-180-pix and for­mal in her speech. She says things like I long for speed. And Greet­ings. And I beg you not to do that…. My nieces find this amus­ing. They are also tall and skin­ny, prag­mat­ic (some­times, any­way), and hilar­i­ous­ly for­mal in their speech at times.

Bink is short and has hair stick­ing up all over her head. She loves bright socks and pan­cakes and peanut but­ter. No one would call my nieces short. (“We don’t have that prob­lem,” one of them said this morn­ing as we read about Bink order­ing a Stretch-o-mat­ic to make her­self taller.) But their hair is some­times Bink-like. And they delight in the sim­ple things of life — includ­ing, but not lim­it­ed to, socks, cel­e­bra­to­ry pan­cakes, and peanut but­ter. They also have Bink’s ener­gy — they yam­mer, they jump, they zip, they climb and glide.

In short, they love both Bink and Gol­lie. They are Bink and Gol­lie — they can relate, as it were. Bink and Gol­lie have adven­tures, a sweet friend­ship, and they roller­skate every­where — these details light up my sweet girls. They enjoy decod­ing the words in the pic­tures and get­ting the joke. They are envi­ous of the tree­house in which Bink and Gol­lie live. They’d like to vis­it Eccles’ Empire of Enchant­ment — and maybe hit a Bar­gain Bonan­za. (Maybe the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dako­ta will sat­is­fy them.)

Bink and Gol­lie got us almost to Mom and Dad’s return. We did have to take a lit­tle field trip to my house (just around the cor­ner) because their cousin was bak­ing scones, but then Mom and Dad were home, the rent­ed Jeep was loaded in record time, and off they went!

I won­der if they’re lev­i­tat­ing with excite­ment in their car seats, chat­ter­ing away like Bink or say­ing I long for the moun­tains…. like Gol­lie. They invit­ed me to sneak in their car and go with them. Maybe I should’ve tak­en them up on it.

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Approaching the last day of kindergarten …

Kinder­garten. It’s not pecu­liar to the USA, but the States took up the move­ment toward ear­ly child­hood edu­ca­tion after Friedrich Froebel intro­duced the con­cept in Bad Blanken­burg, Ger­many, on June 28, 1840. “Chil­dren are like tiny flow­ers; they are var­ied and need care, but each is beau­ti­ful alone and glo­ri­ous when seen in the com­mu­ni­ty of peers,” Froebel believed.… more
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Bank Street’s 2010 Choices

We eager­ly await the annu­al list of books cho­sen by the Bank Street Col­lege of Edu­ca­tion as books that work well with chil­dren from birth to age 14. Each year, the Chil­dren’s Book Com­mit­tee reviews over 6000 titles each year for accu­ra­cy and lit­er­ary qual­i­ty and con­sid­ers their emo­tion­al impact on chil­dren. It choos­es the best 600 books, both fic­tion and non­fic­tion, which it lists accord­ing to age and category.… more
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Monday morning roundup

Hey, Joyce Sid­man, your new book, Ubiq­ui­tous, has done the Most Unusu­al … five starred reviews! In 2009, only 13 books received five starred reviews (if you’re curi­ous, check out the See­ing Stars 2009 doc­u­ment, stored on Radar, the CLN mem­bers’ home page). Book­list, The Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews, Pub­lish­ers Week­ly, and School Library Jour­nal all think so high­ly of this book, illus­trat­ed by Beck­ie Prange and pub­lished by Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, that they’ve giv­en Ubiq­ui­tous the cov­et­ed star.… more
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