About the Holiday
International Book Giving Day was established by Amy Broadmoore and her son and is now celebrated in more than 44 countries. The idea behind the holiday is for people to buy, share, and donate books so that all children can have access to books and know the pleasure and educational benefits of reading. To learn more about today’s holiday, visit the International Book Giving Day website. You’ll also discover the names of literacy organizations in your country, find tips on ways to get involved, and find bookmarks and bookplates to download. Today, of course, is also Valentine’s Day, and along with the hugs, candy, cards, and fun, giving a book is a wonderful way to show your child how much you love them.
I received a copy of Birdsong from Greystone Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own.
By Julie Flett
On a rainy, gloomy day a little girl, Katherena, and her mother pack up their last belongings for a move from their house in a seaside city to the country. Katherena thinks about all the friends and relatives she’ll miss. She thinks about how she’ll miss her “bedroom window and the tree outside. ‘Goodbye, tree friend,” she whispers. They drive past fields and over mountains, stopping to watch a coyote cross the road.
Their new home crowns a hill that overlooks a field now dotted with snowdrops. Two trees stand nearby. Inside, Katherena climbs the creaky stairs to her room. She places books, a toy whale, and her drawing supplies on the shelf next to the window and above a small desk “for drawing.” Now, though, her hands are cold and she doesn’t feel like drawing. That night she and her mom “bundle up together under the covers in [their] new home in the country, far from the sea.”
Summer comes and Katherena sits under a tree listening to the “peeps and whistles and ribbits and chirps” and watching her neighbor Agnes working in her yard. Katherena’s mother encourages her to go over and meet her. Katherena takes their dog Ôhô, which “means owl in Cree,” and says hello to Agnes. Agnes has heard a lot about Katherena from her mother––especially that she likes to draw. Agnes makes things out of clay, and as she shows Katherena around, Katherena admires the objects she’s made. “They look like the branches and birds and flowers.” After her visit, Katherena is excited to go home and draw.
Throughout the fall, Katherena visits Agnes again and again, helping her with her garden. The weather is turning “cold and windy and creaky. Agnes says she’s getting creaky too.” One day Agnes shows Katherena a round pot she is working on. She talks about the phases of the moon, and Katherena tells her about Cree seasons and that “this month is called pimihâwipîsim—the migrating moon.”
In the winter Ôhô enjoys his first snow, tobogganing with Katherena until they’re both soaked through. Later, Katherena warms up near the fireplace and helps her mother make salmon stew for Agnes. Agnes’s daughter has come to help her mother during the winter. In exchange for the stew, Agnes gives Katherena snowdrop bulbs to plant next fall. Katherena thinks “they look like tiny moons,” which gives her ideas for more drawings.
Spring finds Agnes weaker, and Katherena sits on the end of her bed as they listen to the birds singing in the trees and “the tickle of the branches against her window.” When the snowdrops begin to bloom, Katherena wishes Agnes could see them. Suddenly, she has an idea. She gets her drawings from home and with Agnes’s daughter’s help, she papers the walls of Agnes’s room with her drawings of birds, trees, flowers, and other things from nature. Gazing at the walls, “Agnes says it’s like a poem for her heart.”
For the rest of the day, Katherena and Agnes “talk about making things” and sit together in happy silence “until it’s time to say goodbye.” Katherena’s heart is heavy, but she feels fortunate to know Agnes. Later that night, ayîkipîsim, the frog moon, is full.” Her mom and she snuggle up together under the soft blankets. Her hands are warm, and she falls asleep thinking about her friend.
Quiet and deep, Julie Flett’s story of a little girl who moves from the city home she knows and loves to a house in the country, where she meets a kindred spirit touches the heart. Generosity, friendship, and acceptance flow through each page as Katherena learns to embrace her new home, a mentoring friend, and the seasons of life. Our connection to the natural world is beautifully represented in Katherena’s drawings, Agnes’s pottery, and the pair’s gardening. Their intergenerational relationship, forged through proximity and similar talents is profound in its calm comfort and heartening love as they teach each other new ways of understanding life—Agnes from her long years of experience and Katherena through her heritage and the lovely Cree words and ideas she shares with her friend.
Simple, earthy details—a coyote on the road, mulch and worms in the garden bed, salmon stew, snowdrops in a field, the phases of the moon—root the story in the common and surprising moments in life that unite us all. Katherena’s mother and Agnes’s daughter provide comforting emotional and physical support while hinting at another cyclical aspect of life.
Flett’s textured illustrations, in soft, muted earth tones, capture the mood, the emotions, and the seasons with a fresh yet traditional feeling that reveals and reflects the story’s themes. The two-page spreads that introduce Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring again are minimalistic beauties that give readers a moment of reflection before moving on—much like transitional weeks between seasons.
A story that children and adults will take into their hearts, Birdsong belongs on all home, school, and public library bookshelves.
Ages 3 – 8
Greystone Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1771644730
To learn more about Julie Flett, her books, and her art, visit her website.
International Book Giving Day Activity
International Book Giving Day Bookmark and Bookplate
Celebrate today’s holiday with these book accessories that you can add along with any book you give a child.
You can find Birdsong at these booksellers
Picture Book Review