Birdsong: A Story in Pictures

James Sturm. Toon (Consortium, dist.), $12.95 (60p) ISBN 978-1-935179-94-8
Inspired by Japanese kamishibai (“paper theater”) storytelling and the prints of William S. Rice, Sturm (the Adventures in Cartooning series) follows two cruel children who get a lesson in kindness. As the wordless story opens, a boy and girl tromp through the woods, scowls on their faces and sharpened sticks in their hands. The action unfolds in full-page scenes on the right side of each spread; left-hand pages are empty except for wispy tree branches at the far margin. In keeping with the oral tradition of kamishibai, Sturm explains in an endnote that this story is meant to be performed—it’s up to readers to narrate and fill in the details. After (possibly) stabbing a turtle and swatting at a bird, the children encounter a shamanistic figure who transforms them into monkeys that are quickly hunted down and sold to a circus. A scene in which the monkeys stare desolately at readers, with flies buzzing around them, seems to be a turning point, and from there their fates improve. Full of open-ended questions for readers to consider, it’s a haunting study in both empathy and storytelling itself. Ages 5–up. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/2016
Release date: 04/01/2016
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