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Rantings, thoughts, diatribe. Anything that captures my interest and hangs around long enough to capture on a keyboard.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Bird: by Crystal Chan

There is something about certain books you read as a child that stay with you. For all the reading I’ve done as an adult, nothing comes close to the obsessive amount of times I re-read The Endless Steppe; Bridge to Terabithia; Momo; the Ramona series; Hating Alison Ashley and the first book I never returned to my school library, Dancing Star by Gladys Malvern.* I knew every yellowed page, every dog-eared wrinkle, every dirty finger smudge found within the pages of those stories. Falling in love with a book or a story for the first time usually happens, if it happens at all, when you are a kid and discovering the world of reading.

So when I was told that to write children’s stories, you must read prolifically in the genre, it was a task I looked forward to. My seven year old daughter certainly helped me come up to speed with what kids her age were now reading. Judy Moody. The Treehouse Series. Wimpy Kid. They were fine but left no impression on me. So I branched out and started reading random middle-grade books that looked interesting in the library or bookshop. I read best-selling middle grade, obscure middle grade; local and overseas middle grade. I enjoyed many of them but none of them left a mark of any kind. I did not re-read any of them.

Then I read Bird by Crystal Chan.

I found Bird one weekend when visiting Brighton. We were sheltering from the rain in the local Waterstones and my daughter was doing her best to keep us prisoners of the children’s book section. We were not allowed to leave until she had inspected all that she wanted to inspect, which was considerable. I really only had myself to blame, having fostered this habit in her since birth so I followed suit. I picked up Bird, initially because of the surname signifying East Asian descent. There aren’t many Chinese people writing kids books. So I picked it up and after reading the first few pages, put it down, thinking ‘I already have too many books.' Then I picked it back up. Read a bit more. This dance of denial continued for a good while and eventually, the only possible outcome happened which was that Bird came out of the shop with me. Paid for, of course.

And then it sat in my bookshelf for over six months.

I had the good sense to pack it for a writing weekend away and started to read it on my train journey. By Chapter Three, I was hooked. By Chapter Four, I was texting people to tell them that THEY MUST READ THIS BOOK.

What was it about Bird that hooked me? The voice of the main character, a young girl called Jewel, was stronger than anything I have read in a long while. Also the way Ms Chan writes about Jewel’s relationship with the natural world literally was breathtaking and for me, instantly relatable. There were certain phrases in the story that made me just stop. Really stop and pay attention and absorb what had just been said on the page. I was in thrall of what the author had managed to do. Which in my case, was to wake up a part of me that hasn’t been reached by a book or a story in a very long time. Bird is a book I wish I had written.

I wrote to Ms Chan the minute I finished reading it. I just had to. I told her that she had set the bar to another level for me and how much I admired her talent. Her swift reply was gracious, kind, and in truth, a bit quirky.

Lit up somehow from this experience, I started reading, My Name is Mina, by David Almond the next day. As I turned the first few pages, I thought it would not be in the same stratosphere as Bird. I mean, how could it?


I read it in an hour. I ignored my daughter who was waiting for her breakfast and gave her an ipad instead. I ignored the beep of the washing machine finishing its cycle. I ignored my buzzing mobile.

To be cracked open by two incandescent, insightful and special books in a week just does not happen anymore. Until it does and I am reminded, thankfully, that experiences from childhood can still be had.

*Technically this is called stealing which is not a good idea.
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