Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres and historical fiction for children particularly so, therefore this sequel to Little Bird Flies has been eagerly anticipated since I first heard about it. I was not disappointed. Little Bird has matured, the setting has changed but this is just as vivid, entertaining and enjoyable as the first instalment. The sense of time and place draws you in and you journey alongside Little Bird as she discovers a new land, new friendships and new opportunities.
In the mid 1800s Bridie, or Little Bird as she is known, has landed in America, far from her home in Scotland and far from the danger that caused her family to flee. First to the busy streets of New York then to the icy land of Michigan and finally to the prairies of the west, Little Bird holds tight to secrets and dreams of freedom. Then, on her journey she must overcome new perils and come face to face with an unwelcome ghost from her past. However, Little Bird, though small and fragile in some ways, has grown in self belief so determines to face whatever befalls her with courage and hope.
Karen McCombie has created in Little Bird a character who feels both thoroughly believable and also completely engaging. Now a teenager she has matured from the previous book and accompanying her as she discovers a new land and new people will enable young readers to discover them too. With a vivid sense of time and place and a hint of period language children will learn much from this entertaining story. Through the eyes of a young Scottish girl we see what life was like for families arriving in a strange place and how overwhelming this new world felt for them as they tried to find a place to call ‘home’. With its themes of emigration and finding a place of safety and acceptance this has a resonance today and the author, through the character of Little Bird, displays an understanding of the effects of their arrival on the Native Americans whose home it already is. Historical fiction provides a way of looking at issues, both from long ago and today, through a slightly different lens. This book, without ever being preaching or didactic in tone, displays a compassion and understanding for the people involved in a way that will appeal to children’s sense of fairness.
The story is an exciting one combining mystery and adventure with domestic ritual and family life in a manner that makes this feel believable and encourages the reader to care about individual characters. The growing friendship between Bridie and Easter, the black maid at the mine owner’s house is a lovely one and compensates Little Bird in a small way for the absence of her sisters. Doctor Spicer, the female doctor who becomes friends with Little Bird and her family, is a wonderful character and a role model for Bridie as she looks to the future. I love Bridie, she refuses to let physical frailty stand in her way, she is brave and determined but compassionate and understanding too. A fabulous character.
The detail included in both the descriptions of the setting and of every day routine brings this world vividly to life and I learned facts that I did not know before. Although first and foremost this is a fabulous story children will learn as they read and this would therefore be an excellent book to use in the classroom. I think this would appeal to readers who have enjoyed The Little House on the Prairie series or books by Emma Carroll.
The story reaches a hopeful resolution yet still leaves the possibility of another book in the series. I do hope so, I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to Little Bird just yet.
I should like to thank Rebecca Mason and Nosy Crow publishers for providing my proof review copy. The striking cover illustration of the finished copy is by Jasu Hu. Little Bird Lands was published on 6th February and is available to purchase at all good bookshops or online
Karen McCombie has written some story starters for Just Imagine, the educational consultants, and you may like to share Why the Begining of a Story Has to Pop!
Karen also recommends a helpful website: Facts for Kids: Ojibwa Indians should you wish to find out more about this aspect of the book.