I’d heard the buzz about Bluebird by Bob Staake, but deliberately steered clear of reading anything before I laid eyes on my own copy. I didn’t want a single word to influence my opinion of a book that was 10 years in the making. Then my review copy arrived and I dove in. Certain to be an award-winner, Bluebird (Schwartz & Wade, $17.99, ages 4-8) is everything I hoped it would be and more.
This emotion-packed picture book touched me the same way the 1956 film The Red Balloon did. I felt my eyes well with tears just like when I first watched the French classic as an elementary school girl in the late 60s. I’ve carried that movie with me over four decades and am confident Bluebird will have that kind of effect on children. Its moving message will stay with readers. Plus, reading this book feels so much more intimate and individual than watching a film and the artwork simply soars. Yes, it’s a book that has wings because as you read it and watch colors and tones change with the illustrations, your spirit lifts along with Bluebird and the boy he befriends. And though I said “read it,” it’s actually a wordless picture book with a most wonderful voice, one that shouts love and understanding. Great art can do that. Here are some of Staake’s Bluebird character studies:
Friends come in all shapes and sizes and so do bullies. There are several bullies who torment a young boy at the beginning of the school year. He feels alone and ostracized until Bluebird appears and makes it hard not to notice his friendly gestures. Set in Manhattan, the different frames of the story depict the nameless boy and his new pal spending a great afternoon together playing and then sailing a boat in Central Park as new friendships are forged.
The huge smiles on the kids’ faces and the light airy feeling of grays and blues on the pages convey a newfound happiness and joy. Then the grays darken as the boy runs into the bullies.
(A Staake sketch of the bullies in Central Park)
What happens next as Bluebird tries to help his friend may temporarily derail little ones, but that’s really the point. Bluebird is a conversation starter about friendship, loyalty and bullying. It’s also about loss and the healing power of community. I’m glad we waited 10 years for this powerful tale to take flight.
For more information and a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the book, visit FlyBluebird.com.
-Reviewed by Ronna Mandel