cover image Elsie's Bird

Elsie's Bird

Jane Yolen, illus. by David Small, Philomel, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-399-25292-1

When her grief-stricken, widowed father decides to leave Boston to be a pioneer farmer on the Nebraska prairie, Elsie wonders if she'll ever feel at home in the world again. Overwhelmed by "the grass and sky and silence," Elsie cloisters herself in the family's remote sod house. But one day her beloved canary escapes, and Elsie, forced to confront her surroundings, experiences an epiphany: she "finally heard the voices of the plains." Yolen's prose moves gracefully from solemn to euphoric as her young heroine embraces her adopted landscape ("She heard long vees of geese spinning out cries like thread; the creaking call of sandhill cranes.... She clapped her hands and sang back to them, too, skip-rope songs and sea shanties"). But the real draw lies in Small's deeply empathic treatment of his heroine, his unerring sense of composition and color, and, above all, his keen sensitivity to the emotional pull of place. Though Elsie doesn't immediately recognize the beauty of the plains, Small does, imbuing the windswept fields and Elsie's cozy sod house with all the vitality of her former home. Ages 5–8. (Sept.)