Outside the temple gates, young Mai feeds the caged sparrows … and while she would like nothing more than to free her fluttering friends, she does not have the money to buy their freedom. “As much as Mai loved to visit the birds, she hoped someone would pay for their release. This was the Buddhist way. To set an animal free was a good deed.”
For now, Mai must remain satisfied with feeding her trapped friends, and share her joy with them as often as she can. She shows her friend Thu how to give them seeds … and sets off a chain of kind events. Thu in turn gives her velvet slippers with a young shoeless girl who has cut her foot, who shares her cool water with the parched oxcart driver, who gives an elderly woman a ride to the market to sell all her cakes, who fills a monk’s alms bowl with fresh rice, who heals a sick boy, whose father goes to the temple to give thanks … and sees Mai feeding the caged sparrows.
The grateful father hears Mai’s familiar song: Fly free, fly free, / in the sky so blue. / When you do a good deed, / it will come back to you!” and begins to understand “how good deeds are passed from one person to the next.” The man pays for the birds’ freedom, and Mai gratefully, delightedly watches her friends finally fly free!
Told with simple clarity, brought to life with muted, gentle illustrations, Fly Free! is a lovely reminder that the tiniest of kind acts can have far-reaching reverberations that go on and on, spreading good along the way. Roseanne Thong’s “Author’s Note” at title’s end adds a welcome mini-lesson on Buddhist reincarnation, the concept of karma, and the Buddhist and Hindu symbol of samsara (the wheel of life).
[P.S. For memorable further kiddie reading about samsara, be sure to check out the fabulously unforgettable picture book, Samsara Dog by Helen Manos.]