Sara Pennypacker, , illus. by Yoko Tanaka. . Disney-Hyperion, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-4231-1187-0
The so-called Sparrow War, declared by Mao in 1958, furnishes the basis for this grim story. Deciding that sparrows are eating too much grain, “our Leader” orders his people to drive them away, and Ming-Li’s whole village turns out to “[make] so much noise the ground itself rumble[s].” Ming-Li objects, pointing out that other birds will leave along with the sparrows, but she is silenced; on her own, she creates a bird refuge in an abandoned barn and becomes a heroine the following year, when the birds are needed to control worms, grasshoppers and other pests. Fans hoping for the insouciance of Pennypacker’s Clementine will look in vain; Ming-Li’s determination rises up against the frightening images of marauding villagers and of dead birds raining from the sky. Debut artist Tanaka contributes skillful but unsettling pictures—her overcast palette, skewed perspectives and stylized faces create the atmosphere of a bad dream. Ages 5–9.
Reviewed on: 01/26/2009