CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 25 . . . . March 1, 2013
A legend in Brazil tells of the Uirapuru bird whose song is so mesmerizing that all other birds stop singing to listen. Another version believes the bird is a human transformed in death to become the enchanting bird.
Mischievous boys roam the forest in an attempt to catch the magical sweet-voiced Uirapuru bird. They meet and subsequently chase away an elderly man who has spent his life trying to imitate the elusive birdsong on his flute and who tells them that, if the bird's song dies, it will be the end of the world. They observe a beautiful moon-maiden who attracts an array of night creatures about her. Hearing the haunting song of the bird, she shoots an arrow into the darkness, and the precious bird falls to the ground, turning immediately into a handsome young man. As the couple leave the rainforest, they hear the old man still trying to capture the song of the Uirapuru. Enraged, the young man turns on him, but the old man shoots him through the heart. As he dies, the young man disappears and a bird flies into the branches overhead singing its song.
There is beauty to the prose and a magical feel to this symbolic story which is to be expected coming, as it does, from the pen of the much-lauded P. K. Page, legendary poet and writer who died in 2010. Nevertheless, there are certain elements about the story that fail to satisfy. Some areas are too vague and subtly conveyed so that the reader is left with more questions than answers, such as why the girl shoots the bird or why the young man is angered by the efforts of the musician. Also, the reasons for the death of the young man seem tenuous. The actions have little lead-in and, therefore, seem staccato and abrupt with an ending that leaves one needing to know more. Furthermore, none of the personalities involved seem to come to life as characters and the little readers learn of them, including the young boys, is not favorable.
The illustrations by Kristi Bridgeman are striking with vibrant colors capturing prevailing moods and which are full of pattern. The color and design at first emanate from the beak of the singing bird to create a flowing, stylized design of double-page spreads that float through the book. The designs remind one of scenes from the Tree of Life or rich Jacobean embroideries but, in fact, have been thoroughly researched to provide authentic representations of the flora and fauna of the rainforest. Every picture is full of small details within the overall design, details such as philodendron leaves and stylized flowers. Flies, frogs, moths, moles, beetles, snakes and owls are revealed with each represented by appropriate sounds, such as clicks, buzzes, hoots, rattles and squeaks.
Uirapurú won the 2011 Bolen award and was a nominee for a Governor General's Award and the Canadian Library Association award for illustration. While the book speaks of enduring issues, such as the preservation of endangered species and man's need to own rather than to merely appreciate, the intended audience of children aged 4-9 may find the subtlety of its message confusing and not within their grasp. The work could find its audience more satisfactorily in Grade 4s to early teens. In school and classroom libraries, it could be instructional as part of an art or environmental program. In public libraries, care would need to be taken in classifying this beautiful but esoteric picture book for older readers to ensure that it would find its audience.
Recommended with reservations.
Aileen Wortley is a retired librarian who was with the Mississauga Library System in ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.