“May my heart always be open to little birds who are the secrets of living.”*
Every so often a picture book comes across my desk that makes me weep. It’s not always because the story is sad. Roger Ebert said it’s not sadness in movies that make him cry, it’s kindness. Yes. Sometimes, it’s sheer gratitude that such a beautiful thing exists, or the quiet way an author or illustrator expresses the wonder of being alive. Little Bird by Germano Zullo and Albertine is such a book. It’s joy, kindness, wonder, sadness (but of the wistful sort), and beauty. In short, Little Bird is a treasure.
The story of Little Bird is minimalist, as are the illustrations. Although the artist is Swiss, the block of gold against a cloudless blue sky is like a flat, prairie landscape from western Canada. Perhaps it is canola, or wheat, but the details are few, and the only human activity is a red van, ambling down a narrow, winding road. When it stops at the edge of a crevasse, a peculiar-looking fellow in a plaid shirt and blue overalls departs the cab, walks around to the back, and opens the door.
A large bird flies out, followed by a flock of beautifully imagined fowl of varying design and colour. This is no ordinary delivery, and it will be no ordinary day. A small black bird, who for some reason has not followed the others into the sky, stares up at the man from the darkness of the van. The man flaps his arms, encouraging the tiny creature to take wing, but the bird doesn’t move. The man sits down next to the bird, offering part of his sandwich. The two of them eat their lunch in amiable silence, until the man makes an even more ridiculous attempt to lure the bird out of the truck. It works, and the black bird joins the flock. Mission accomplished, or so you might think, but as the text promises, some days are different. Little Bird soars in unexpected ways, and the final illustration is magical, but also funny, and deeply moving.