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Be Light Like a Bird Hardcover – September 1, 2016
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From School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Wren is grieving. Her father has just passed away, his body lost at sea after a flying lesson crash. She would like nothing more than to talk with, cry with, or even just get a hug from her mom, but her mother is grieving in a different way—she's angry, and she doesn't want to talk about it. After burning all of her husband's papers and getting rid of all his possessions, she packs up the car and drives Wren north out of Georgia, to a new life. A couple of weeks later, they move on again. And then again. Finally, they can't get any further north than Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and Wren decides she won't let her mom move them anymore. Being the new kid in sixth grade isn't easy, but she does manage to get to know Theo, a boy who also has a deceased parent. Wren and Theo discover that the town dump is planning to expand and fill in the wetland where Wren likes to bird-watch, and they begin to form a friendship as they research and start an environmental movement against the plan, with the help of several caring adults in town. In this book, readers experience the many different forms that grief can take and the varied effects it can have on people. Despite the heavy theme, the story is not mired in mourning, and the empowerment that Wren and Theo begin to feel as they work together is uplifting. Some of the secondary characters are one-dimensional, and the arc of Wren's mother's journey is a little uneven; however, overall, this is a thoughtful novel. VERDICT A moving and ultimately heartwarming journey through loss. Hand to readers who loved Ali Benjamin's The Thing About Jellyfish.—Jenny Berggren, Longfellow Middle School, Berkeley, CA
"This book should come with a warning. It will pull you in, break your heart, and take you by surprise. A masterful weaving of loss and grief, friendship and family, bullies and birds...I guarantee you've never read anything like it." - Barbara O'Connor, author of How To Steal a Dog
"A moving and ultimately heartwarming journey through loss. Hand to readers who loved Ali Benjamin's The Thing About Jellyfish." - School Library Journal
"Be Light Like a Bird is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, a quiet and gentle story of the isolation of grief--and of growing up. It speaks straight to the heart about the power of communication and of forgiveness and is sure to inspire compassion in its readers." -- Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, TX
"Wren's sense of self and ingenuity will inspire readers to find hope and opportunity . . ." -- Elizabeth O. Dulemba, author of the award-winning A Bird on Water Street
"With amazing surprises of love, connection, resentment and nature this story weaves together life's lies and truths and explodes when the two can no longer co-exist." -- The Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, Georgia
"This novel is overflowing with great discussion topics including the grief of losing a parent, protecting our environment, Native American history and making special friends in a place you can call home. Highly recommended." -- Schuler Books and Music, Okemos, Michigan
"A wonderful look at the way grief and loss affect us, and how friendship and connection are everything. One of my favorite tween books this year!" - The Fountainhead Bookstore, Hendersonville, North Carolina
"Skillful characterization carries this quiet novel along." - Kirkus Reviews
Top customer reviews
Wren is a twelve-year-old girl whose father dies in a plane crash. This is a realistic look at the grief process and how it affects everyone. This is a very heavy topic for middle school children. However, a recent discussion in my sixth grade classroom brought forward that often times middle school is when grandparents and sometimes parents die. This is their biggest fear, the loss of family and friends. This is the perfect book for my school shelves. The relationship between Wren and Theo reminded me of two kindergarten students I had. Curtis lost him mom to cancer. He grew up watching her in constant pain, even though she tried hard to protect him from it. He took her death hard. Then Sarah’s dad suddenly died of pneumonia. It was Curtis who helped her through the grieving process. He had no idea he had helped me as well. Theo and Wren reminded me so much of them. I love when books can help me make a personal connection. This is an emotional read so get out your box of tissues. This is one you won’t want to put down.
What a wonderful book about dealing with loss, grief, and anger! I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Wren, her mother, Theo, and the rest of our cast of characters are well-rounded, complex characters who are believable and just jump off the page with their realism. Wren's mother is running from her grief and anger and of course, Wren's just along for the ride because she doesn't have a choice, but she really does well with all the change considering that she's grieving too.
Eventually, after a few stops along the way, they land in Pyramid, Michigan, a small town in the upper peninsula near the end of I-75. Wren decides she likes it there and wants to stay. She makes a new friend in Theo and together they fight against the draining of a wetland by a local landfill.
The whole time, there's still a rift between Wren and her mother which is only increased by some terrible news her mother has to tell her about her father. Can they ever mend the rift between them?
I'm not going to provide the answer to that or to whether or not Wren and Theo win their fight against the landfill. You'll just have to read this absolutely marvelous book to find out! I highly recommend this book. Even if you're an adult, I believe you'll enjoy it as well! Check it out!
** Special thanks to the author, Monika Schröder for providing me with a copy of the wonderful book. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions and conclusions expressed in this review are my own. **
The introduction of the book caught me off guard and created some discomfort with no context for what was described. It also had the effect of feeding my curiosity to see what the story is about.
Two chapters in, I couldn’t put the book down. Wonderfully clear, meaningful, sometimes magical prose that gets to the point.
Twelve year old Wren’s childhood is irrevocably altered with the death of her father. I learn that her act of burying a road killed animal in the introduction is one of her coping mechanisms in coming to terms with his death.
The story chronicles multiple threads in Wren’s life that become touchstones in her growth, understanding, and belief in herself as she comes to grips with her father’s death. It begins with a terrible shock; her mother’s emphatic repudiation of her father after his death, which is beyond Wren’s understanding. Events and associations with other people, adults and peers, lead Wren to insights in the ways that people process grief.
Wren’s passion for bird watching (which she had shared with her father) results in a blossoming relationship with classmate Theo, and the two under Theo’s leadership begin a class project calling out the significance of a wetland about to be removed to expand a landfill.
This sets up a difficult conflict for Wren through another thread in the storyline. She has courted favor with Carrie, the most popular girl in school, by giving her the answers to her math homework. Carrie’s dad owns the landfill, and Carrie cools to Wren’s friendship as Theo and Wren undertake the project to save the wetland. Through this is a lesson in the nature of friendship, as well as learning to work with someone on a significant common goal.
These are but a few of the threads skillfully woven into the real world complexities that Wren discovers and must learn to address for herself. Threads populated with significant characters, some inspirational, some difficult, and others, like she and her mom, wounded.
These and other threads in the story line are woven into an organic whole that illustrates the conflict inherent in speaking to important matters, and in making adult choices in doing the right thing. And the importance of coming to believe in yourself.
All is well that ends well, as it does in this novel. I think in context, this is appropriate, inspirational, and likely to be understood and taken to heart by the book’s target audience.
The story”s against all odds convergence of characters, situations, plot elements and teachable moments is unlikely to descend on anyone as this complete a package anytime soon. But I found the story, characters, and their development believable. Events flowed naturally; and smaller moments within chapters and paragraphs contributed to outcomes.
The narrative style is straightforward and direct, which I appreciated. At the same time, the author’s descriptors of the culture and ecology of northern Michigan, detailed depictions of wildlife, statistics on disposal of trash, fashion sense, or lack thereof, products, current events and other tidbits sprinkled throughout lend real spice to the storyline.
Mitch Album’s nonfiction work “Tuesdays With Morrie” was often in my head as I read “Be Light Like a Bird”. Album spoke to significant lessons he learned in early midlife directly from his former sociology professor Morrie Schwartz. It is a very powerful book, with many reviewers speaking to its inspiration in furthering their understanding of what is important in life. I felt that Monika Schroder achieved something similar in this story about Wren at a much earlier stage of life, with tests that spurred her growth and understanding in a manner that is relatable for most of us, young or old.