The Woman Who Turned Children Into Birds by David Almond,  illustrated by Laura Carlin

The Woman Who Turned Children Into Birds by David Almond,  illustrated by Laura Carlin. Candlewick Studio, 2022. 9781536219968

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book?  When an old woman named Nanty Solo comes to town, she announces she can turn children into birds. Adults dismiss such talk as fanciful rubbish, even illegal, and admonish the children to stay away. But one by one, the children sit with Nanty, who does indeed turn them into birds. Dorothy Carr becomes a swallow, at least for a few minutes. Colin Fox gets to be a sparrow, while tiny Susan M’Beppe gets to be a goldfinch. Soon the sky is filled with birds while adults yell “Get out of that sky this very minute!” “What on earth are you frightened of?” Nanty asks the adults, before turning them into birds as well. Now everyone will get to enjoy a few minutes of freedom as “up they go and up they go!” This story reads a bit like a fairy tale, albeit one grounded in a modern suburban setting. Do the children and their adults ever turn back into people and return to earth? Where did Nanty Solo come from and is she really magic? The book leaves these questions unanswered. Carlin’s delightful mixed media illustrations do a fine job of supporting the text, giving the earth-bound scenes a gritty, gray realness while embellishing the bird transformations with warm, glowing magic. The contrast is quite striking: as Dorothy Carr transforms, we see her white dress, stockinged feet, and angelic wings (but not her face) as she rises up in a golden haze. Turn the page and her swallow self shoots across a blue sky, leaving a trail of magic sparkles in her wake. Charming and not a little strange.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No

To whom would you recommend this book?  Almond’s strong prose and imaginative storytelling will make this a delightful read aloud. As always with this author, children will be puzzled; are the children really turning into birds? What a great conversation starter! And how does Nanty decide what bird each child will become? What bird would you like to be? 

Who should buy this book?  Elementary school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? A win for Almond fans

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: November 14, 2022

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