This sweet, simple story from Marjorie Newman (The King and the Cuddly
) and award-winning Scottish illustrator Patrick Benson (The Sea-Thing Child
) somehow avoids cliché while teaching one of life's oldest lessons: if you love something, you really shouldn't hold it prisoner in a tiny, handmade wooden cage.
With spare text, Newman explains how Mole finds a baby bird that has fallen out of its nest, apparently abandoned. ("Mole waited and waited, but no big bird came to help it.") He takes the tiny bird home to keep, despite his parents' warnings: "'It's my pet bird,' said Mole. 'It's not a pet bird. It's a wild bird,' said his mother." Eventually, the baby bird tries to fly, and the earnest, industrious Mole builds a cage (with the bird's help!) to keep him from leaving. ("He put the bird into its new cage. The bird was sad. Mole's mother was sad, too. But Mole kept his bird, because he loved it.") Eventually, it falls to visiting Grandad to gently nudge Mole into doing what he knows he must.
As in The Sea-Thing Child (with Russell Hoban), Benson's understated artwork helps to keep this fairly adult message accessible for wee ones, with thoughtful compositions that carry the meter towards the book's inevitable end. But Benson's most memorable accomplishment is the subtly sad and comic baby bird, who regularly peeks out to look directly at the reader. (Ages 4 to 8) --Paul Hughes
From Publishers Weekly
With just a sentence or two per page, British author Newman conveys to youngest readers the importance of allowing others to be free to be themselves. When young Mole happens upon an abandoned baby bird, he brings the tiny creature home with him. Mole quickly falls into the caretaker role assisted by his kind but realistic mother (It's very, very hard to take care of a baby bird) building the bird a nest and gathering it some food. But as the bird grows healthy and shows signs of wanting to fly, Mole confines his feathered friend to a wooden cage. Eventually, his parents gentle remarks (when Mole calls it his pet bird, each parent in turn replies, It s not a pet bird. It's a wild bird) and a hilltop walk with his grandfather help lead Mole to the conclusion that the baby bird deserves its freedom. With a quietly resonating tone, Newman tackles heart-tugging issues the responsibilities of pet care, the pain of loss, respect for the natural world that many parents will find familiar. Benson's (Owl Babies) serene ink-and-watercolor illustrations capture springtime in the country in all its sunny, leafy-green finery. With cozy accents, a quilt, a china cupboard, a stack of picture books, carefully placed windows he manages to make Mole's underground home equally bright and inviting. And the cast of critters each a skillful cross between realistic and anthropomorphic is sure to charm. Ages 4-8.
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