Elsie’s Bird — Perfect Picture Book Friday

9780399252921_p0_v1_s260x420Title: Elsie’s Bird

Author: Jane Yolen

Illustrator: David Small

Publisher: New York: Philomel, 2010

Genre: Picture book, fiction

Audience Age: Ages 4 to 8

Themes/Topics: New experiences, sounds

Opening Sentences: Elsie was a Boston girl. From the time she was a little child, hair in pigtails, she knew the cozy harbor where gulls screamed at fishing boats, where the fish merchants called, “Fresh cod, fresh!”

Synopsis: Boston is all Elsie has ever known, its sounds as familiar as her own breath. But when her mother dies, her father decides to move away from the sad memories Boston holds, and go to Nebraska.

Nothing in Nebraska is like home. There are no familiar sights, no familiar sounds. Elsie writes to her grandparents, “Here there is only grass and sky and silence.” She can’t hear – or doesn’t allow herself to hear – the sounds of the prairie.

The only comfort she has is her canary. She sings sea shanties to her canary, and he sings back. Until one day, Elsie forgets to close the canary’s cage, and he flies off into the vast silence of the prairie.

Or is the prairie silent? Are there sounds? Is the canary wiser than Elsie about this new home?

Activities/Resources: Reading this book could lead to discussion about new experiences, and how a person learns to adjust to them. A new house, a new baby in the family, a new school, a new step-parent, even new foods – what new things have kids experienced, and how have they dealt with them?

It’s sometimes scary to try new things, but there are ways to make it fun. Kids Activities Blogs has suggestions for new experiences for families to try together.

The other aspect of this book that comes through loud and clear is the sounds that are featured throughout the story, and that are so much a part of Elsie’s life. In the first lines quoted above, you can hear the raucous screech of the gulls, and the noisy cries of the fishmongers. On nearly every page, there is some reference to sound.

There are sounds all around us, but often we are so busy that we tune them out. A good activity to get kids (and adults) aware of the sounds around them is to sit quietly and listen, then each person take a turn in telling what they have heard. You might be surprised that someone else has heard something you didn’t even notice. This can be done outside or inside, in the country or in the city. Just listen.

Availability: This book is readily available in hardcover, online or at your local bookstore.

Every Friday, bloggers join together to share picture book reviews and resources, thanks to author Susanna Leonard Hill’s brainchild, “Perfect Picture Book Fridays.” Susanna then adds the books (and links to the reviews) to a comprehensive listing by subject on her blog. Find the entire listing at her “Perfect Picture Books.”

27 thoughts on “Elsie’s Bird — Perfect Picture Book Friday”

  1. Well you had me at Jane Yolen, Beth, but wow, this book sounds wonderful! And I love your listening activity particularly – so true that we often get so busy we don’t pay attention to such things. I think this book would go well with Silence as a contrast. Thanks for adding it to our list!

  2. How is it that I’ve never heard of this one by Yolen?! Thanks for highlighting it, Beth, because I’m going to look for it now.

    I’m also thrilled that Jane used the proper term “gull” there, unlike most people who say “seagull.” 😉 I’m such a stickler for correct usages. LOL!

  3. Haven’t read this one by Jane Yolen. But, I love books that encourage kids to listen to the sounds around them. I think kids would love identifying the music of the natural world — the prarie, the sea, the forest and the city. Like that this is a quiet book.

  4. This ‘sounds’ wonderful, and I can really identify with Elsie having moved 17 times before I was out of 10th grade. My grandblessings were playing what we call the ‘quiet’ game this summer. We heard birds, and trains, cars, a dog..the usual sounds. Then my 3 yr old grand said she heard squeaking. Is it the swing I asked? No…so we all listened harder. Turns out it was a branch in the lilac bush and you could only hear when the wind blew. She won the quiet game.

    1. Wow, your 3 year old grandkidlet is really good at the quiet game! That’s so impressive.

      17 moves before the end of 10th grade? Wow again.

  5. This book reminds me of one of the prompts for Start the Year off Write! We just did a sit and record exercise. It was hard because it’s winter and SO cold that it really was quiet.

  6. Another prairie story! Another Jane Yolen! Excellent! I LOVE the cover! When I was reading about Patricia MacLachlan for my PPBF choice, I found an interview where she talked about growing up on the prairie and then moving to Massachusetts! And how difficult it was to make that transition. I’ll be looking for Elsie’s Bird! Thanks!

  7. Yay! This IS a perfect picture book, and a perfect pairing of author and illustrator. I snatch up David Small books whenever I can get them. This beautiful book is one I turn to over and over. Thanks for your great resources.

  8. I think the activity you suggested would be a perfect sensory activity for my class. I know this book would lend itself perfectly to the activity. Can’t wait to read this. Can’t wait to do the activity. I’ll call it Outside Songs. Ooh, that’s a good title for a pb, right?

    1. Oh, I’m delighted to hear you’re going to use it with your class! And yes, Outside Songs is a PERFECT title for a pb. Go to it, Pamela!

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