Saturday, September 18, 2010

Elsie's Bird

Elsie's Bird
written by Jane Yolen; illustrated by David Smalls
(Philomel Books) 2010
Source: Orange County Public Library

Elsie lives an idyllic life in Boston.  She plays skip rope with her friends and sings to the birds. Life is wonderful in Boston. But since the death of Elsie's mother, her father desires to be far away from Boston and "the sadness in his heart." He decides to move to Nebraska "where are there are few people and almost no towns at all."  Elsie goes happily with her new canary on the train with Papa. When they arrive, Elsie notices there is nothing near her except a house with a roof of sod. She desperately misses her old life in Boston with her friends and grandparents, but doesn't say anything to Papa.  It's not until her canary escapes from its cage that she discovers the beauty of the "sea of grass" that is her new home.

Elsie's Bird would be an excellent choice as a read aloud to explore the theme of home. What does it mean to have a home and what is the definition? Is a home a building or the people around you? This is an interesting discussion to have with students. As with other Jane Yolen books, Elsie's Bird could also be a mentor text for teaching writing and specifically the use of adjectives to create images. The streets of Elsie's childhood are "lazy curves" and Nebraska is a "faraway place." Jane Yolen is simply one of our best writers. David Small's artwork is very effective in giving you a sense of Elsie's loneliness. We see her swallowed up by the prairie grass and understand how she feels in this unfamiliar place.

Click on this link for an episode of Penguin Storytime featuring Elsie's Bird.

Other reviews of Elsie's Bird:
Fuse #8
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast


  1. a companion book to this is Dakota Dugout by Ann Turner. It is told from the point of view of an old woman remembering her life as a young wife living in a sod house, and then later learning to love her new place. It is written as a poem and the pen and ink illustrations are beautiful.

  2. I'll have to check out Dakota Dugout. Thanks for the tip!

  3. The teachers at my school love the Penguin Storytime site. My tech teacher said, "It's great and FREE!" thanks for sharing this great resource.

  4. No problem! I need to investigate the site further myself.


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