Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown; illustrated by Christian Robinson (1938, 2016)

Another picture book I picked up because of Bruce Handy’s marvelous book.  He wrote lovely things about the book and made it sound intriguing.  It was indeed.  Brown copyrighted the text in 1938; Remy Charlip illustrated it in 1958, which was after Brown had died.  Christian Robinson published this newly illustrated version in 2016, and really does the text justice.  Charlip’s original illustrations (note:  I’ve only seen google’d images; I haven’t read the original version, so I’m basing my review not that) seemed very flat and of their time.  I think Robinson’s illustrations also seem of their time as well; I wonder if in 50 years, someone else will create new illustrations for that time?  Because I do think this book is lovely enough to be reissued again and again for a new generation of kids.  I remember finding dead birds, and being sad, and burying them, and then forgetting about them, just like in the book.  Playing “funeral” which is what the kids in this book are doing (I also remember digging one bird back up, and being unpleasantly surprised at the results).  Brown is commenting on death for kids, and also commenting on death and kids for adults.  Robinson’s illustrations are vibrant.  I particularly like the kids who runs around in a fox mask and tail.  Because I would like to be able to do the same.  Handy specially mentioned the multicultural kids, which is very modern, but feels a bit like one of those World War II movies where all the buddies are a different color and ethnicity.  But how you make a multicultural book feel natural is always tricky, and that certainly didn’t bother me about the book.

The Dead BirdThe Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was originally written by Margaret Wise Brown in 1938; published posthumously and illustrated by Remy Charlip in 1958; and the reissued in 2016 with new, updated (and far more colorful and eye catching) illustrations by Christian Robinson. I googled some of Charlip's original illustrations (the older edition is out of print), and I thought this update was well worth it; those older illustrations were pretty flat. This book, which has a poetic feel to it, needed these more vibrant pictures to make it sing an even brighter song. I did wonder if in 50 years, someone else will re-illustrate this again; Brown's book is worth reissuing over and over for a new generation. It's that good. 

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