cover image The Dead Bird

The Dead Bird

Margaret Wise Brown, illus. by Christian Robinson. Harper, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-06-028931-7

Brown’s 1938 story, best known from a 1958 version illustrated by Remy Charlip, describes a group of children who discover a dead bird. Robinson (Leo: A Ghost Story) pictures a verdant urban park, where four children—one dressed as a red fox, another wearing blue fairy wings—frolic with a big gray dog. The sad news arrives on the first page: “The bird was dead when the children found it.” The frowning children gently lift the small brown bird, finding “it was still warm and its eyes were closed.... But there was no heart beating. That was how they knew it was dead.” They solemnly bury the bird under the leafy trees, improvise a mourning song, and surround a stone marker with summer flowers, behaving “the way grown-up people did when someone died.” Even as the children imitate grief in response to the wild bird’s death, they genuinely grieve the joy that has been lost: “You’ll never fly again,” they realize. Robinson’s illustrations hint at how the improvised funeral enables the children to acknowledge impermanence, his close-ups capturing their concentration as they assemble the memorial. Brown takes a direct approach to a difficult subject, suggesting how community rituals provide solace. Robinson concludes with a wide-angle view of growing trees and the children flying a kite, implying a return to carefree fun and putting a poignant distance between the tiny figures and readers. Ages 4–8. Illustrator’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Mar.)