cover image Fly Free!

Fly Free!

Roseanne Thong, , illus. by Eujin Kim Neilan. . Boyds Mills, $17.95 (28pp) ISBN 978-1-59078-550-8

“Fly free, fly free, in the sky so blue. When you do a good deed, it will come back to you!” sing the Vietnamese characters in Thong’s (Wish ) story, as each does something to help the next. Mai wants to release a cageful of birds at the birdseller’s—a traditional Buddhist good deed—but she doesn’t have the money. She leaves water for the oxcart driver, who gives a stranger a ride, who repays the driver with a cake, and so on, until Mai’s birds are freed by another good deed. Neilan (Imagine a Dragon ) applies luminous colors to wood with a heavy horizontal grain, creating cloud-streaked skies, rice fields, and mist-shrouded lakes. The tranquil landscapes give appropriate calm to a story about karma, the idea that good deeds accumulate and affect one’s rebirth in the next life. Neilan’s characters look best in profile; in head-on views, their features sometimes appear squashed or lopsided. Still, it’s a useful introduction to Southeast Asia, an explanation of the Buddhist concept of karma (an explanatory note appears in back), and a neat moral tale about paying it forward. Ages 7–9. (Jan.)