Today’s theme, I’ve decided, is families that come together in unexpected ways. I have good reason – I’m moderating an event at the Library of Congress on transracial adoption at noon (eek!) – and I have a gorgeous debut novel I must share (it’s always about a book!).
If you read no further, know this: Masterwork is a masterpiece. Between newcomer Michelle Cuevas‘ exquisite storytelling, and veteran artist Ed Young‘s deceptively simple drawings in constant motion, this spare book is … well … just about perfect.
“My name is Pigeon Jones, and I was raised by a painting Indian elephant …” and thus the worldwide family saga begins. Left as a baby on the steps of an orphanage by overwrought parents, the as-yet-unnamed Pigeon “crawl[s] clear across town” and gets discovered by an elephant called Birch (“‘…because I’m white, like a birch tree’”). Birch works at a car wash run by a former Ringleader who bitterly misses his circus glory days. In spite of a “vast employment history,” Birch dreams of being a fine artist.
A single touch bonds elephant and child forever: “‘I’ve been looking everywhere to feel something as simple as this,’” Birch marvels at Pigeon’s tiny hands. Not only does Birch give Pigeon his name, but he provides a safe, loving home … on top of his wide back. Birch quits his unfulfilling to nurture and raise his new charge. [Lest you have any doubt that animals can't make good parents (plenty of the human variety sadly are less than humane), Cuevas – who expertly inserts delightful wink-winks throughout the book – includes a list of documented children who were raised by dogs, goats, ostriches, bears, and more, oh my. Yes, I googled the list!]
Fast forward to Pigeon’s 10th birthday, when he announces his wish to go to Paris … so that Birch might somehow reunite with the lost love of his life, and become the famous artist he deserves to be. Fulfilling Pigeon’s birthday present sends the pair on a sensational odyssey to the other side of the world, beyond their “too-small-for-a-name town” to the Bronx zoo, to a Hollywood agent’s office, and finally to The City of Light …
Close escapes, mistaken identity, dashed hopes, new beginnings are all a part of their sensational journey … you’ll giggle, you’ll sigh, your heart will break but it will miraculously mend, and you’ll surely be wiping tears of grateful joy by the time page 136 unfolds. Read. Weep. Smile. Celebrate. Families … of the most nontraditional variety!
Readers: Middle Grade