Written and Illustrated by Bob Staake
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2013
The plot in a nutshell: A bird befriends a lonely boy
A boy walks through the city to his first day at a new school. A bluebird flying nearby keeps an eye on him throughout his day and sees that the other kids are not very nice to him. On his way home, the boy notices the bird and plays a game of hide and seek with it. He stops to buy a cookie and drops some crumbs on the ground for his new bird friend. The boy goes to the park and buys a sailboat to float in the pond. The bluebird lands on top of the boat and all the other kids are impressed, especially when the bird hops onto the boy’s hand. Feeling happy, the boy and the bird explore the park and run into some hoodlums. They try to steal the boat and when they can’t, they throw a stick that hits and kills the bluebird. Shocked at what they’ve done, the bullies run away. The boy kneels by the bird and picks it up. A red bird flies down to the boy, followed by more birds of all colors. They lift the boy up and fly him up into the sky and over to a fluffy cloud. The bluebird flies into the cloud and the boy waves goodbye as the birds return him to the ground.
Author/illustrator Bob Staake has published lots of books in which there’s a clear sense of humor and whimsy, so this book and its more thought-provoking tone feels like a big departure. Mr. Staake says that he got the initial idea for this book while watching a bird who seemed to be following him on a walk through Central Park. It’s also easy to draw parallels to the 1956 short film, The Red Balloon, which follows a similar story. I wouldn’t say that this story is derivative, though, as it feels very different in style and tone.
Because the book is wordless, the artwork, done in Adobe Photoshop, carries the story and is open to the reader’s interpretation (which means you can craft a happier ending for the bird if you really want to). Color is used brilliantly in this beautiful book, with much of the artwork conveyed in shades of grey, with more and more blue introduced into the pictures as the boy’s world opens up after making friends with the bird. Because the colors are so minimal, it makes the final scenes, with the many different colored birds, even more meaningful and lovely. The back cover of the book shows the bird’s cloud hanging over the city, near where the boy goes to school, as though it is still keeping an eye on him, which is a heartwarming ending.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that a true friend can change your entire life’s landscape.