cover image When Birds Could Talk and Bats Could Sing

When Birds Could Talk and Bats Could Sing

Virginia Hamilton. Blue Sky Press (AZ), $19.95 (72pp) ISBN 978-0-590-47372-9

With impressive aplomb, Hamilton follows the ambitious Her Stories with eight animal tales, reworked from 19th-century originals recorded by a slave owner's daughter. The stories are told in the cante fable tradition, with plenty of rhyming and singing, and an apparently artless ease (""Well, Miss Mockingbird reeled the song off as pretty as you please""). They must be read aloud. And they will be-the foibles, squabblings and occasional good deeds of Miss Bat, Bruh Buzzard and Sis Wren are our own. The self-deceived Miss Bat's two stories epitomize the book. She shakes loose all her beautiful feathers, then casts away all her songs, so that she will not be like any bird... and soon she most certainly is not. The reader will laugh, ruefully, at her pride, recognizing the moral (""For pride has a way of taking a fall every time"") long before it appears as the satisfying conclusion. A wonderful complement to the front-porch voice of the stories, Moser's bright watercolors vibrate with dozens of birds confronting the reader in their best hats and bonnets, their faces alive with contentment, irritation or panic. These vaguely Disneyesque characters strut through formal full-page compositions and flutter, flounce and perch among the lines of type. It's unusually warm and down-to-earth work for Moser, some of his best, and helps to make this book, if not the most serious of Hamilton's collections, one of her most enjoyable and accessible. All ages. (Mar.)