cover image SPARROW JACK


Mordicai Gerstein, . . FSG/Foster, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-374-37139-5

With the same gusto he brought to What Charlie Heard, Gerstein celebrates the accomplishments of another out-of-the-box thinker, John Bardsley. In 1868, the Englishman, newly transported to Philadelphia, imported 1,000 sparrows to the United States, averting the destruction of his new hometown's foliage by inchworms. This odd historical tidbit, in Gerstein's skilled hands, shapes up into a funny and engrossing tale. While a boy, Bardsley befriends a baby sparrow—one of a species viewed by the English as "greedy, noisy pests, but tasty snacks when roasted." The hero's fondness for the birds sparks his unusual idea about how to get Philadelphia's inchworm population into balance. Like composer Charlie Ives, Bardsley follows his vision despite naysayers. He transports the birds without the funding of the city council and shelters 1,000 sparrows in his home through the winter months. A living room scene, showing "Sparrow Jack" calmly reading a newspaper with birds perched on him from head to toe, embodies the whimsy of this story and the good nature of its hero. Humor and fancy augment every lightly hued, cross-hatched illustration. Gerstein decorates a number of scenes with a border of the ubiquitous inchworms, for example, and includes a dream sequence in which the birds debate the impending move ("Face facts. We're despised and hunted here"). Such playful touches make these humble little creatures soar. Ages 4-8. (May)