Cover image for Bird
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Lee & Low Books Inc., c2008.
Physical Description:
[42] p. : col. ill. ; 25 cm.
Reading Level:
AD 600 L Lexile
Added Author:
Bird, an artistic young African American boy, expresses himself through drawing as he struggles to understand his older brother's drug addiction and death, while a family friend, Uncle Son, provides guidance and understanding.


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An African-American boy nicknamed Bird uses drawing as a creative outlet as he struggles to make sense of his grandfather's death and his brother's decline into drug addiction. Told with spare grace, Bird is a touching look at how a young boy copes with real-life troubles. Readers will be heartened by Bird's quiet resilience and moved by the healing power of paper and pencil. Winner of Lee & Low's New Voices Award.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

In a promising debut for both Elliott and Strickland, this picture book tells a poignant story about a boy whose loving family, friends and a gift for drawing help him navigate difficult emotions surrounding the deaths of his grandfather and drug-addicted brother. A complicated weaving of impressive watercolor, gouache, charcoal and ink drawings amplifies the metaphors and action of the poetic text as it combines black-and-white with color. Never straying from believable language in casting Mehkai, the child, as narrator, Elliott skillfully unfolds the sequence of events. Both art and text nimbly play with Mehkai's nickname, Bird, beginning with the image of a shivering bird that, like his brother, seems to be blown away by a gust of wind, and continuing with Uncle Son's attempt to explain the brother's death: " 'You can fix a broken wing with a splint,/ and a bird can fly again,' he said./ 'But you can't fix a broken soul.' " The simplicity of the narrative belies the complexity of the themes; it would be a shame if the picture book format discouraged the proper audience from examining the book. Ages 8-12. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

In this beautiful picture book for older readers, Elliott and Strickland tell a moving story in spare free verse and clear mixed-media pictures of an African American boy who loves to draw. At first Bird's mentor is his older brother, Marcus, a graffiti artist. Then Marcus becomes a junkie who is eventually kicked out of their home. Drug use among family members is a reality for some young people, but it is rare to find books for the age group that reflect that experience. Marcus' need for a fix  and his eventual death are both handled with subtlety: Marcus never got better. After the funeral, Granddad went to bed. Bird's elderly friend, Uncle Son, keeps the young artist strong and tells him a story from slavery times of the people in chains who could fly when their spirits broke free. The spacious scenes of the boy beneath birds soaring high above the city streets echoes what Bird discovers: that art can inspire, comfort, and elevate. Pair this with Virginia Hamilton's The People Could Fly (1985).--Rochman, Hazel Copyright 2008 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

Gr 1-5-An urban African-American boy transcends the loss of loved ones with help from a caring elderly mentor and from the sustaining ability to create art. Bird looks back and remembers his once-admired older brother Marcus's slow descent into drug addiction, expulsion from the family home, and ultimate death-a death that ostensibly led to the decline and death of his beloved grandfather as well. Wise Uncle Son picks up where Granddad leaves off and becomes the steadying and inspiring influence in Bird's life as he learns not only the hard lesson that, "You can't fix a broken soul," but also to look to the future with confidence. Despite the plainspoken, accessible language, the author's flashback structure may not be as successful with this audience as a more linear story arc. The illustrations, rendered with a delicate touch in watercolor, gouache, charcoal, and pen, emphasize the textual theme of resilience in adversity, even while Marcus's appearances are often shrouded in a palette of grays. Bird's own pencil drawings of city life and the repetition of Marcus's symbolic bright cap add interest and meaning to the visual narrative. From a first-time author and illustrator comes a sad truth of contemporary life successfully leavened with hopeful optimism.-Kate McClelland, Perrot Memorial Library, Old Greenwich, CT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Nicknamed Bird at birth, Mehkai idolizes his older brother Marcus. As they mature, both brothers excel in art. However, Marcus's drug experimentation spirals into an all-consuming addiction. While Bird's drawings are intricate and controlled, Marcus's colorful graffiti sprawls, depicting a bird in flight. Bird's conflicting emotions about Marcus authentically reflect his African-American family's turmoil when his brother dies. His late Granddad's friend responds to Bird's despair with quiet strength: "You can fix a broken wing with a splint / and a bird can fly again / But you can't fix a broken soul." Elliott's sensitivity for her subjects resonates with Strickland's distinctive mixed-media art. Shifting perspectives and colors reflect Marcus's deepening addiction; his signature cap alters accordingly. Off-kilter lines exude the random energy and volatility of an addict. In two powerful double-page spreads, a doorway separates the brothers; Bird, flooded in light, reaches for Marcus, but his brother remains in the darkness. With unusual depth and raw conviction, Elliott's child-centered narrative excels in this debut. (Picture book. 8-12) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.