cover image Ostrich and Lark

Ostrich and Lark

Marilyn Nelson, illus. by San artists of the Kuru Art Project of Botswana. Boyds Mills, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-59078-702-1

The bold, thickly stroked paintings of Kalahari Desert birds and trees that illustrate Nelson's story were created by members of the indigenous !Kung San, for whom, Nelson explains, making and selling art represents a way both to continue their traditions and to subsist. The story contrasts noisy Lark, who sings "the first song of the day, perched tall, slender, and tawny brown on a termite castle or a low branch of a camel thorn tree," and who goes on singing all day long, with silent Ostrich. Ostrich never sings%E2%80%94that is, %E2%80%A8until one night he booms, "Twoo-woo-wooot!" in a burst of self-declaration. The paintings don't directly reflect the emotions expressed in the story; they're static images with a notably fine sense of balance and composition, some as intricate as Persian rugs. Nelson's (Snook Alone) lyrical writing gives a vivid sense of life in the desert: "[O]ver the cicada's drone, a drizzle of buzzings fell, and a downpour of birdsong." A valuable starting point for classroom discussions about Africa, ecosystems, and finding one's voice. Ages 4%E2%80%938. Agent: Regina Brooks, Serendipity Literary Agency. (Sept.)