Celebrating 25 Books Over 25 Years: Bird

Lee and Low 25th anniversaryLEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today as well, as hear from the authors and illustrators.

Featured title: Bird

Author: Zetta Elliott

Illustrator: Shadra Strickland

Synopsis: Young Mekhai, better known as Bird, loves to draw. With drawing you can erase the things that don’t turn out right. In real life, problems aren’t so easily fixed. As Bird struggles to understand the death of his beloved grandfather and his artistic brother’s decline into drug addiction, he escapes into drawing as an outlet for his emotions and imagination. Along the way, with the help of his grandfather’s friend, Bird finds his own special somethin’ and wings to fly. Told with spare grace, Bird is a touching look at how a young boy copes with real-life troubles. Readers will with be heartened by Bird’s quiet resilience and moved by the healing power of paper and pencil.

Awards and honors:

  • New Voices Award Honor, Lee & Low Books
  • Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award, American Library Association
  • Ezra Jack Keats Award, Ezra Jack Keats Foundation
  • ALA Notable Children’s Books, American Library Association
  • Best Children’s Books of 2008, Kirkus Reviews
  • Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews
  • Celebrate with Books List 2008, Cleveland Public Library
  • Editor’s Choice 2008, The Bloomsbury Review
  • “Choices” 2009, Cooperative Children’s Book Center
  • Best Children’s Books of the Year, Bank Street College of Education
  • 2009 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People, The Poetry Center
  • Storytelling World Resource Awards Honor, Storytelling World magazine
  • West Virginia Children’s Choice Book Award

The story behind the story (read the full interview here):

 LEE & LOW BOOKS: What part of this book was the biggest challenge for you?

Zetta Elliott, author: When I first wrote the story at the start of 2002, there was nothing challenging about it at all. I wrote it quickly—in less than a day, I believe. The story was simply ready to come out. The biggest challenge came in 2006 when my editor asked me to turn the book into a [longer form]. It was difficult to accept praise for the unique voice I had created but then to manipulate that voice after I felt I had said all I needed to say. The story felt complete to me, but it wasn’t complete to others; and so it was challenging to satisfy other readers’ needs.

LEE & LOW BOOKS: Bird tackles some very serious subject matter. Why did you choose to approach these subjects through a picture book as opposed to something aimed at older readers?

Zetta Elliott, author: Children are open: they see, and hear, and feel things, just like adults; but they don’t have access to the same information, and they can’t process that information in the same way. I understand the impulse to protect children from difficult subject matter, but sometimes our efforts to shield children actually silence kids instead. The children I’ve worked with know about drugs; they know what junkies look like, how they act. But they may not understand why. Many urban children have had a family member affected by drug addiction, and increasingly, many children in small towns are also having their families torn apart by drugs such as crystal meth. We teach children to “just say no,” but we don’t always give them the tools they need to understand addiction. I felt a picture book could promote discussion between children and adults. I definitely see parents reading this book with a lot of conversation—it’s okay to stop reading and start talking! Give the child an opportunity to ask questions or express emotions. When we demystify things such as drug addiction, we empower children to make better choices.

—Zetta Elliott, author of Bird, in an interview with LEE & LOW BOOKS

Resources for teaching with Bird:

  • Inspire a philosophical exchange over Bird with these discussion questions created by the University of Washington Center for Philosophy for Children, which is dedicated to bringing philosophical inquiry into schools
  • Discover how to teach philosophy with elementary school students with the Bird book module from the Teaching Children Philosophy Program
  • Use the activities and discussion questions on page 17-18 for Bird created by the 2009 Coretta Scott King Awards Committee, American Library Association
  • Check out the Teacher’s Guide from LEE & LOW BOOKS
  • Read why to read sad and dark books with children

Additional collections including Bird:

Book activity:

Uncle Son is a mentor for Bird. Pair students up and have them interview each other about who their mentors are. Ask students to brainstorm a list of questions to ask their partner first, such as: What is a mentor in your opinion? Who is or has been a mentor for you? What advice has she/he given or model behavior has she/he demonstrated for you? Do you think every person needs a mentor? Why or why not? What makes a good mentor? Students should take notes during their interview of their partner and then write a description of their partner’s mentor. Encourage volunteers to share their reflections with the class.

How have you used Bird? Let us know!

Celebrate with us! Check out our 25 Years Anniversary Collection.

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