As the years rolled on, I’ve recently had the good fortune to join a rapidly expanding group that accepts all new initiates regardless of background, no questions asked. We call ourselves grandfathers.
So, when I had the opportunity to read a thoughtful new children’s book, written by Boston resident Tom Crice and illustrated by East Side-born artist Ellen Rakatansky, about a sensitive and confused young boy who lost his grandfather, it obviously grabbed my attention.
Birds of a Feather tackles this potentially devastating event somewhat circuitously, but with an engaging and realistic narrative that will resonate with young readers, their parents, and, I can confirm firsthand, even grandparents. Presented through the eyes of the grieving child trying desperately to figure things out, we quickly bond with the boy. At the funeral, for example, he stares into the open coffin but is convinced it can’t be his grandfather in there “because he didn’t smile at me once, even though I looked and looked and waited and waited.” And adult attempts at making him feel better, though well intentioned, don’t cut it.
Successful children’s books on tough emotional subjects are generally the ones that neither preach nor pontificate to the young reader. Birds of a Feather, we’re happy to report, falls easily into this category. As we follow the boy on his twisting but always-gentle path towards understanding (minor missteps notwithstanding), it’s difficult not to be moved by his journey, presented realistically and tied beautifully together by its artwork.
Set in Texas, the book is “loosely autobiographical” from the author’s perspective, but Ellen says she connected to it almost immediately. “I felt it should be illustrated with soft, nuanced images so that the drawings do not overpower the text.” Interestingly, she also chose not to depict any actual people, in the belief that readers, young and old, would connect more strongly with an emotional narrative like this if she let all images and associated feelings be ones in their own minds.
As first-time collaborators, the author and illustrator are obviously onto something because their thoughtful project has been snatched up by libraries across the country. To check it out yourself, it’s available on Amazon through DoveTale Press.