Bluebird by Bob Staake

In my never-ending search to discover wordless picture book titles, I came across Bob Staake’s recently published Bluebird.  The soft pastel blue and gray palette invites the child reader into its pages. The simple geometric designs of the city, school, storefronts and park leave the reader focused more on the unlikely budding friendship between the characters, a sad little schoolboy and a cheery bluebird than the mundane setting.  The reader watches the little boy’s transformation from loneliness to happiness on account of the bluebird’s persistent companionship. Without the use of a single word, except for some environmental print, Staake delivers an evocative narrative. The brooding darkness of the woods foreshadows the tragic climax. Yet the story brightens to a cheery and unexpected ending.

I have never experienced a “lump” in my throat while “reading” aloud a wordless picture book to my students.   Bluebird is the first to accomplish such a feat!  It is this ending that I chose to explore with my students. Without judgement and having already established a trusting community of learners, I solicited my students to jot down a sentence or two (on a ubiquitous yellow Post-It) to reflect upon what happened to the bluebird.  Their candid responses were beyond my expectations. From the literal to the insightful and profound, here are a few of those reflections with my spelling in italics.

  • “He floow away to a nusxthr sad boy.” He flew away to another sad boy.
  • “the bully trogh the stick it hit bluebird He died. More birds came they lifted the boy the bluebird came alive.” The bully threw the stick. It hit bluebird. He died. More birds came. They lifted the boy. The bluebird came alive.
  • “the BLow Brd wit to the KLawd.” The bluebird went to the cloud.
  • “The kid let go.”
  • “He DiD Not Be cerFoL with The Bird so The Bird was ded.” He wasn’t careful with the bird so the bird died.
  • “He DiDe and Kam Bak to lif and He went in The klawd.” He died and came back to life and he went in the cloud.
  • “Bloo Brib was hrt anb fit bitr.” Bluebird was hurt and felt better.
  • “I think the bird went in the sky to hevin.” I think the bird went in the sky to heaven.

Sharing a wordless picture book like Staake’s Bluebird is reason why I have chosen such a profession.  It addresses weighty and universal themes of friendship, bullying, empathy, hope, loss and comfort within the safety of its illustrations. Bluebird is destined to become a timeless story that will resonate with readers of all ages.

Greetings

Welcome.

After many years of talking to anyone who’ll listen to my ponderings and musings about children’s literature, I’ve finally dedicated a blog to the topic for all to enjoy.  And what an extraordinary topic it is.  In all probability my fascination with children’s literature began in my primary years. My elementary school hosted an AMAZINGLY WONDROUS annual book fair.  Unlike today’s homogenous Scholastic Book Fairs, a flood of books besieged our school.  The entire gym and library had table upon table of books for purchase. Authors and illustrators would visit our classrooms to share their craft.  To my recollection, I met Rosemary Wells in 1st grade and Allan Atkinson in 3rd grade.  My collection of books from these book fairs, book clubs and older brother hand-me-downs amassed. Thus, my parents took it upon themselves to custom-build a bookshelf to house my growing library. I organized, alphabetized and arranged my books in my bedroom more times than I could count.  I held to one steadfast rule that I uphold to this day; no book is allowed on the shelves until I read it from cover to cover.

Leading by example, my parents nurtured a little book lover. My mom regularly volunteered at my school library. Without fail, my parents read to me every night. But it was Mrs. Nye, the school librarian, that I vividly remember reading aloud to me.  I was amazed at how she could hold the book sideways for us to view the pictures and read aloud without having to glance at the words. As a first grade teacher, I’ve come to realize that that is a practiced skill. As a 10 year veteran in the classroom, I not only read right-side up but also upside-down, side-ways, and with my eyes closed. The latter spooks my students but some titles are easily memorized.

The majority of my elementary school memories relate to book characters.  A giant red Clifford hung from the back wall of my 1st grade classroom.  Clifford and I had many conversations, albeit rather one-sided.  But for a child with speech difficulties Clifford didn’t judge my /l/, /r/, and /th/ sounds that mimicked the letter /w/.  My first venture into theatre was to play the starring role of “Sister Bear” in the 1st grade stage production of The Berenstain Bears and Too Much T.V. But my theatrical career was short-lived as I tripped while jumping rope across the stage in the dress rehearsal and was replaced by a more reliable “Sister Bear.” (My coordination skills were negligible then and now).

Fast forward to July 2004. I was about to embark upon my current career as an elementary educator. While walking through my future colleagues’ classrooms it became abundantly clear that literacy reigns supreme.  That was the expectation. Countless picture book titles filled their classrooms.  I inherited an empty classroom filled with boring reading textbooks. Ugh! I spent the summer months scouring local library sales, Goodwill, and thrift stores in search of picture book titles for my future students to browse. And now, a decade later, I admittedly own thousands of children’s books from a range of levels, pre-emergent to chapter books. Perhaps my organization of such a classroom library may be a future blog’s topic. I digress.

After my first year of teaching (best characterized as a “baptism by fire”) I began to ponder a master’s degree.  A few clicks on google later, I found a perfect match that melds my love of children’s literature, cerebral predilection for theories and chosen career in teaching. Availing myself to Summers only and occasional Spring terms, I’ve managed to stretch my  pursuit of a graduate degree across nearly 8 years.  Although I’m finally nearing completion of an M.Ed in Curriculum & Instruction in Children’s Literature from Penn State, I’d rather my studies in and contributions to this field continue…