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Books and Beyond

The book “Birdie,” by Eileen Spinelli, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Grand Rapids, Mich., c 2019, was a delight to read and it took me back to when I was 12 years old. That’s how old Roberta Briggs is. Birds are one of her main interests. Observing and studying them is a comfort for her when she’s upset. When she was younger, she told her mom she wanted to be a bird when she grew up. She goes by the name Birdie.

What does she get upset about? For one thing, her close friend Martin becomes interested in doing things with Nina, who has recently moved to town. Birdie and Martin used to play Scrabble together every Saturday. She felt close to him, and this is the way she wrote about it before he got interested in Nina:

At school, my heart is a hummingbird whenever I see Martin. (p. 83)

You can see that she tells her story in prose poems.

After being mad for a while, she has a new friend Albert, and he teaches her to play BirdOpoly. I looked that up online and found that it is a game where players can learn about North American birds.

In the early poems, Birdie’s grandmother Maymee is making plans so she’ll be ready for her funeral someday — what she will wear and what color the coffin will be. Birdie plans for the music at the funeral to be Mozart, because she knows that he had a pet starling. Then she writes:

And get the undertaker o release a swirl of starlings over your grave. (p. 10)

Soon Maymee meets Mr. Harlan Gray, a man her age who comes to Hadley from Michigan to visit friends. Hadley is where Birdie and her mother live now — with Maymee. They moved here from Philadelphia after Birdie’s father died. He was a fireman and had gone into a building that was on fire because he wanted to save any homeless people who might be living there.

On Sundays they go to the Hadley Grace Church. Birdie helps Maymee get ready. Her mother sings in the choir, and Birdie’s class boxes up cookies to take to people who need food.

Every night before she goes to bed, Birdie fills out her daily bird chart with birds she has seen that day. One list has three starlings, three crows, two goldfinches, one blue jay, two geese, one chickadee, and one woodpecker. A very meaningful bird she saw once was an owl, “like in a picture book” (p. 24). She felt that her dad sent her the owl.

At bedtime Birdie puts on her dad’s reading glasses. Then she looks at the photo she has of him. She picks it up, gives it a kiss, and says “Goodnight, Daddy.”

Every year on Father’s Day, she and her mother go to the cemetery where he is buried. They take a lunch, sit by his grave to have the meal, and talk about his life.

Birdie was very sad and upset when a man called Officer Downey begins to visit her mother. Birdie feels very troubled, and she wants to be by herself. Mr. Downey tries to make Birdie happy by making a screech owl nest box.

Eventually, mother tells Birdie that she plans to marry Fred Downey, and they will go to the Bahamas on their honeymoon. How do you think Birdie feels about this?

Mr. Gray now has a serious health problem, and his son comes to take him back to where they live. Maymee is sad, but it helps her to have Olive, Mr. Gray’s cat. It is meaningful for Birdie to see how her grandma is living with sadness.

An important thing Albert does is find Birdie a snail to take to her dad’s gravestone soon on his birthday.

Her mom is sick on this day, so Fred Downey takes her. First he sits a distance away so that Birdie can be by herself with her father. But Birdie then invites him to be with her. They sit together for awhile, and then he tells her he misses his dad. She takes his hand and says she will go with him to his father’s grave. An older man learns something important from a 12-year-old — keeping in touch with loved ones who are not with us on earth anymore.

Birdie thinks seriously about what is going on in the lives of her family and friends. Reading her poems takes me back to when I was 12. That is when I began to think more about myself and my place in the family. I felt like I was growing up. On my paper route I made up conversations about everyday happenings that were hard for me to understand. I wonder if people heard me.

How did I choose this book to read? I was looking at the New at the Library feature in the Independent, and saw some fetching titles listed for Juvenile Fiction. I went to the library and checked out four books from that shelf in the Children’s Library!

To find more great children and adult titles, as well as activities for all ages, visit marshalllyonlibrary.org or call 507-537-7003.

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