Large, colorful illustrations by Jim LaMarche land on every page. Facial expressions on the characters, as well as the birds, are captivating.
It’s a beautiful story for ages approximately four to eight (in my humble guesstimation) told by a young girl who describes her strange but loving grandmother, and what Grandma left behind when she headed off for a tour by porpoise. What a thing to have on your bucket list.
The book doesn’t come right out and say that Grandma’s stuffed pigeon is responsible for the three eggs that hatch in her old bedroom, but the eggs had to have come from somewhere. With the magical aura that always surrounded Grandma, it seemed not only possible but logical that she’d have a magical stuffed pigeon.
To avoid spoiling the story, one I know adults will enjoy as well as children, I’ll leave off on the plot there. But I will say that Erdrich’s writing is just as magical as the grandmother and pigeon are in her story.
Out of the usual 32-page spread for picture books, fifteen pages have text. Some pages run anywhere from 75 to 150 words with the picture. I would guess there are around 1,200 words in all, possibly up to 1,500. To my delight, that’s a lot more than some of the 400-word picture books more commonly written today.
Erdrich does an excellent job of throwing in a few “big” words to expand a young reader’s mind, or to give a parent the opportunity to sneak in a little explanation while reading to a child. Words like pensively and ornithologist (bird expert) spring up in the book, along with ectopistes migratorius (passenger pigeons). Then, with a beautiful hand at her craft, she weaves in a little history on how the existence of these pigeons phased out.
I think she needed more words in order to tell the story the way she does. She doesn’t leave all the description to the illustrator. She could simply say “curtains” and let the illustrator decide what the curtains look like. But the author doesn’t do that. She chooses a very specific curtain, curtains made of not just lace, but of Irish lace. She also isn’t shy to tell us that there are “three” eggs in the nest found in Grandmother’s room, whereas nowadays with the illustration showing the same information, the word “three” would be slashed right out of the text. Editors would say, “Don’t waste words on what is already shown in the pictures.”
But I appreciate Erdrich’s style. After all, a picture of a lacy curtain would not tell me that it is specifically Irish lace. The added detail gives a stronger sense of Grandma, so it works. The word three isn’t necessary, but it doesn’t bother me either. In fact, taking the word out throws the beautiful rhythm of the sentence off, so I’m glad she left the word in. Maybe that was the author’s intent. You will never read an Erdrich sentence that isn’t spot on in rhythm. Also, Erdrich may have been pulling on the power of three often used in literature. It’s an effective technique.
My favorite sentence in this book is “White moonlight fell in bands through the kitchen windows and led the way out.”
I’m not going to tell you who’s following the moonlight or why, but isn’t it a lovely sentence?
Get the book.
It’s one you’ll come back to again and again.