Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sparrow Girl

Booklist (January 1, 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 9))
Grades K-3. In 1958, Chairman Mao declared war on sparrows. He blamed them for devouring the nation’s wheat crop, and he required all citizens, armed with pots and pans and firecrackers, to take to the streets and literally scare the birds to death. The successful campaign brought on a plague of locusts and a three-year famine that resulted in the deaths of almost 40 million Chinese. The author takes these actual events as inspiration for a resonant, contemporary fable about Ming-Li, a girl who feels for the sparrows under attack, defies the leader, and rescues seven birds as they fall from the sky. Pennypacker strikes a suitably moralistic tone and tells her story with rich, descriptive detail. Tanaka matches the somber elegance of the text with opaque, folk-inspired paintings in a subdued palette. An author’s note explains the difficult facts behind the story. Opposite the grave historical account, though, is an uplifitng image: on a field of white, a small nest with seven eggs promises the hope that springs from the simple actions of one empathetic heart.

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