________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 9 . . . . January 3, 2003


Courage to Fly.

Troon Harrison. Illustrated by Zhong-Yang Huang.
Calgary, AB: Red Deer Press, 2002.
32 pp., cloth, $19.95.
ISBN 0-88995-273-6.

Preschool-grade 4 / Ages 4-9.

Review by Denise Weir.

*** /4


Meg opened the box and lifted the swallow out while Jenny watched. For one moment it clutched her fingers with tiny feet. Then it skimmed over the pond and arrowed upward. Meg tilted her face, watching the bird heading south toward warm air, its sleek wings tipped with the sun, a twittering song held in its throat. Its joy bubbled in her chest.

Meg and her family have emigrated from the Caribbean to a city of a more northern climate. Crowds of people, city noises, sky scraping apartment blocks, and bullying boys intensify Meg's loneliness.

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     After a sudden winter blizzard blankets the city, Meg finds and rescues a sick swallow. Although the swallow quickly recovers, it remains silent and still in the box Meg has provided. An elderly Chinese man, who has become Meg's friend, advises her to release the swallow. In doing so, Meg and the swallow find the freedom they need.

     Birds are magical creatures that soar on invisible currents of air. However, they are also wary creatures that are ever alert to potential danger. Meg is like a wary bird. She is afraid of her new environment. She does not trust other children and remains locked up in her apartment, rather like the swallow which is later kept in a box. Gradually, Meg begins to trust others. She trusts the elderly Chinese man. She trusts and cares for the swallow; and she extends an invitation of friendship to Jenny. As Meg lets go of her fears, she becomes open to her environment, and like the swallow she releases, Meg experiences the joy of being free to experience life.

     This is a very descriptive book. The author's description of the characters and the environment gives the reader a sense of flight and the fluid movement of air currents. Skateboarding children "swoop" on the pavement. The elderly Chinese man's exercises are described as "Swallow skims water" and "Part clouds and See Sun." Like the flow of a breeze, the exercises are portrayed as slow, gentle and fluid like movements.

     Fluidity and change are also portrayed in the illustrations. Initially, Meg comes to the city during the spring or summer. The trees are green, and warm orange colors are reflected on the buildings. As fall comes, golden leaves appear to drift on the wind, and the trees are bare. It is during this time of "seasonal change" the Meg meets her elderly friend, and it is winter when Meg finds the unconscious swallow.

     There is some confusion in the book about the season in which the bird is released. While the snow appears to be melting and green buds appear on the trees in the illustrations, Meg is described as "watching the bird heading south toward warm air." The illustrations and the text do not seem to match at that particular part of the story. The reader was expecting to see a winter scene rather than a spring one. One also wondered why the swallow would be heading south if spring, indeed, was already there.

     The remaining text and illustrations lend a spring like sense to the story. Jenny and Meg "began to laugh as they swooped over the tree tops on the swings creaking chains." The accompanying illustration shows the girls running through the greening grass with a flock of swallows flying overhead.

     This story is about having the courage and flexibility or fluidity to accept change. With the exception of the confusion of the bird's migration to the south, the text and the watercolour illustrations are complementary. Moreover, Meg's mother's use of English depicts an immigrant family’s trying to adjust to a new community and language. "It need to fly away south. It need to go where the sun be warm."

     As the book is not print heavy and has large illustrations, it is suitable for beginning readers and group or individual story time. This would be a useful story to give to children who are shy and experiencing difficulty fitting into a new situation. Courage to Fly would also be useful to give to children who are bullying others in order to discuss the feelings of the characters.


Denise Weir is a library consultant with Manitoba Culture Heritage and Tourism, Public Library Services.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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