cover image The Silver Swan

The Silver Swan

Michael Morpurgo. Dial Books, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-2543-0

Pooling their considerable talents once again, Morpurgo and Birmingham (previously teamed for Wombat Goes Walkabout) craft a superb picture book about a boy, a special swan and the sometimes cruel realities of nature. After a female swan arrives on a lake one moonlit night, a solitary farmboy who lives nearby befriends her, watching through the seasons as she finds a mate and starts a family. An unusually long winter leaves a family of foxes near starvation, however, and in the end the boy is helpless to save his beloved swan from an attack. ""I knew the precise moment she died,"" he observes. ""I knew it because she sang it."" Morpurgo's sharp observations trace the cycles of the natural world with a bittersweet beauty, never anthropomorphizing the animals yet conveying a deep respect for the ways of their world. His words take wing with Birmingham's pastels. Plying light and shadow to echo the story's shifting moods, the artist blends and blurs colors in a series of breathtaking impressionistic images and unusual perspectives (the newly arrived male greeting the boy's swan is reflected in the boy's eyes; readers see only the boy's image on the surface of the water as he spies on the newborn cygnets swimming behind their mother). An awe-inspiring and poignant glimpse of nature's inner workings. Ages 4-8. (Oct.)