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“Not right away, but soon, Nico made one friend, then two. They were drawn to Nico’s kindness, the wild flights of his imagination, and the way he could be both a bird and completely, delightfully himself.” –Bird Boy
by Matthew Burgess
Diverse Characters, Picture Book
4 – 8
Nico is the new kid at school. With that title comes a lot of uncertainty, and for Nico, a new nickname: “Bird Boy.” At first, the nickname is an attempt to tease Nico for his ability to befriend a couple of birds on the playground, but Nico quickly makes the name his own. Instead of letting the monomer “Bird Boy” put him down, Nico uses the new name as a chance to explore his imagination– becoming an eagle over the forest, a diving penguin, or an agile hummingbird. It isn’t long before other classmates take notice of Nico’s unique ability to become “Bird Boy,” and they begin to admire his confidence. In the end, Nico finds a way to connect with others simply by being who he wants to be.
Matthew Burgess’s Bird Boy introduces readers to the wonderfully imaginative, kind, and sweet, Nico. Each page is 1-2 paragraphs of around 1-6 lines of text with occasional parentheses that leave space for Nico to describe his initial feelings about a situation through a third person narrator. For instance, through lines such as, “with a backpack full of stones. (That’s how it felt.),” or “he turned the name over in his head a few times and smiled (It surprised him, too.),” readers get a very personal and present idea of how Nico encounters and overcomes feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Bird Boy does have some more complex vocabulary that could be challenging for new readers. However, words such as huddles, side-curved, aquamarine, and nectar-filled would be great for young readers looking to take their first flight into some new diction. Parents could also easily read this engrossing narrative to a child of any reading level. The vibrant illustrations of watercolor and graphite transform the school’s playground into chaotically beautiful, bird-filled scenes that are sure to captivate all readers.
Whether listening to it read aloud, or reading this narrative themselves, readers will discover the inspirational message at the heart of Bird Boy: the understanding that true friends come to you when you choose to confidently love everything that makes you uniquely yourself. While it should be made clear that not all name calling should be as easily accepted as the way Nico accepts the name “Bird Boy,” Bird Boy shows how Nico uses this monomer to find a new form of strength, agency, and even love for the outdoors. The book demonstrates to readers that sometimes it’s about how you choose to view yourself in an uncomfortable situation that makes the real difference, rather than anything anyone else chooses to say about you.
Ultimately, in Bird Boy friendships and community come after one discovers the power and comfort that comes from being who they want to be and standing by that decision with their head held high. If you’d like to explore other picture books that help children accept themselves, check out Angus All Aglow by Heather Smith and I Am Enough by Grace Byers.
Drugs and Alcohol
- The term “Bird Boy” is a name initially used to tease Nico, before he transforms it into a description that he finds empowering.
by Hannah Olsson