Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Roosting Chick: Colibri

Our local library (which is in danger of being agglomerated by the king-
sized King County system) has lists of recommended books for various grades. I do love a good list. So recently I started working my way through them. Most of them are good read-alouds for my third grader and me; the fifth grader lurks right outside the room listening or waiting to grab the book from us when we are done, but the fifth grade books are a bit long for our picture book reading session. So I've been reading them when the kids are running late or being ornery so that I sit in lonely splendor during the official read-aloud portion of the evening.

Colibri, by Ann Cameron is the latest book on that list. The cover art shows a sleepy girl resting among flowers, and I think this picture influenced how I think of Tzunun, nicknamed Colibri (hummingbird), the heroine of this book. The new cover has her standing up; I bet I'd picture her as more active if I had read that book. I know I'd have an easier time selling this book to my sons. Colibri's problems are mostly too big for her to handle -- she is exploited by Uncle, the cheating beggar who looks after her. Although she realizes that he's no good, Colibri can't help loving him because he's the only parent she knows; her real family are only a distance memory. Slowly she learns to find strength in herself, and as Uncle's demands rise she finds the courage to resist him, first almost passively but then actively and with great spirit.

The mystical elements of the story were a detraction for me; I don't like fortune telling and wish the author had kept things vaguer so as to allow me my rational thinking while still honoring the traditions and religion of Guatemala. Since I know precious little of Guatemala, either the geography or history or culture, I can't tell how authentic the story is, but it feels true and Cameron did spend many years there. The book read like a peaceful river that is funnelling down to a tremendous waterfall, with a powerful ending and a realistic refusal to make everything happy ever after. I think my fifth grade would like it, but he won't read it. B

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