Written and Illustrated by Jacob Grant
Feiwel and Friends, 2015
Little Bird and his papa were soaring high over the treetops.
The plot in a nutshell: A young bird learns a bad word from his father and repeats it to everyone.
When Little Bird’s father drops the extra-wriggly earthworm he was carrying, he accidentally says, “BLARK!” out loud. Little Bird starts repeating it, but Papa tells him it’s not a word for little birds. Happy to know a ‘big bird’ word, Little Bird travels through the forest, saying his new word to everyone, with varying reactions from startled to frightened. He finds his father explaining to everyone that Little Bird didn’t know the word could be hurtful. So Little Bird goes back to all of his friends with a new word: “Sorry.”
When my son learned to read, you couldn’t pass a word without him proudly reading it aloud and sadly, that included the very rude graffiti on the wall near our apartment. I remember how jarring it was for me to hear my adorable little boy sounding out those words and I panicked, trying to figure out what to say and do next. Mostly, I was just grateful that he didn’t hear it from me, as is the case in this delightful picture book from author/illustrator Jacob Grant. I like that Papa Bird tries to explain to Little Bird about why he shouldn’t use the word, and I like that he uses it anyway, because that’s how it usually plays out in real life. It’s always hard to put that particular cat back in the bag.
The illustrations were done in charcoal and then digitally colored. They add a lot of comic appeal to the character and lighten the overall tone of the story so it doesn’t come across as too heavy. I love that when Little Bird is going around saying the word, he gets lots of different reactions, because that is rooted in reality, too. It’s nice that Papa Bird doesn’t get angry with him and that Little Bird gets to make the decision on his own to apologize. The book ends with one more repetition of the word, this time from the earthworm, once again on his way to becoming dinner. It’s a funny rimshot for readers and a gentle reminder that no matter how much we try to protect our kids from hearing bad things, it’s ultimately out of our hands.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that no parent is a perfect role model for their child. What’s important is teaching them how to fix what’s gone wrong.