Strange Birds A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers

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From the award-winning author of The First Rule of Punk comes the story of four kids who form an alternative Scout troop that shakes up their sleepy Florida town.

"Writing with wry restraint that's reminiscent of Kate DiCamillo... a beautiful tale of the value of friendship against unconquerable odds." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review!)

When three very different girls find a mysterious invitation to a lavish mansion, the promise of adventure and mischief is too intriguing to pass up.

Ofelia Castillo (a budding journalist), Aster Douglas (a bookish foodie), and Cat Garcia (a rule-abiding birdwatcher) meet the kid behind the invite, Lane DiSanti, and it isn't love at first sight. But they soon bond over a shared mission to get the Floras, their local Scouts, to ditch an outdated tradition. In their quest for justice, independence, and an unforgettable summer, the girls form their own troop and find something they didn't know they needed: sisterhood.---from the publisher

384 pages                                  978-0425290439                                 Ages 9-12

Keywords:  Latina author, friends, friendship, justice, working together, teamwork, acceptance, accepting others, diverse books, diversity, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, beauty pageant, social activists

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“Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends

Mm, get high with a little help from my friends

Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends”

— Lennon/McCartney (1967)

 

“As they stood together, Lane felt a spark of excitement, as if the tree house was charged with electricity. But something was still missing.

‘We need a dead body,’ Lane announced.

‘A what?’ Cat turned from the drawing to face Lane with a worried look.

Lane laughed at her reaction.

‘Like in that old movie where the four boys go on an adventure to see this body,’ Lane said. ‘We need a mission too. A goal.’

‘But not a real dead body,’ Cat said. ‘Right?’

‘A metaphorical dead body,’ Aster offered.

‘Exactly,’ Lane said.”

 

Reading STRANGE BIRDS, and observing the bonds that grow between four tween girls over the course of a summer, makes me wish that guys were wired a little more like girls. As a youngster, despite having friendships and participating in groups, I never experienced anything that compared to what develops here between Lane, Aster, Cat, and Ofelia.

 

STRANGE BIRDS is set in a small town near Miami, Florida, and features a multicultural cast. Lane is spending the summer with her wealthy grandmother while her parents pursue their divorce. She instigates her own group after resisting her grandmother’s urging her to participate in The Floras, a local girl’s organization--part Scouts and part beauty pageant--that Lane’s ancestors founded a century earlier. Lane nevertheless delves into the Floras handbook, hoping to discover and employ strategies that make for a fun and cohesive group. For populating her group, she invites Ofelia, the daughter of a woman employed by her grandmother, and then leaves the rest to chance, anonymously stashing two invites in the public library.

 

Aster, who lives with her grandfather, is a young chef. At the end of the summer, she’ll be entering the local middle school after being homeschooled to this point. Ofelia is an aspiring journalist seeking autonomy. Cat is a bird lover and environmentalist. Lane is an artist. Together, they come to focus their attention on an issue that has recently led to Cat leaving the Floras.

 

There is a lot to contemplate and debate here, regarding the girls’ choices of tactics in their quest to make change. At one point, Aster asks her professor grandfather about his past experiences as a young activist. He responds:

 

“‘One of the most challenging things about being an activist and really caring about things and wanting to see them change,’ her grandfather started, ‘is accepting that change rarely comes as quickly as we’d like and as quickly as it should. But that doesn’t mean we give up the fight. Sometimes the fight changes, takes a different appearance, but we keep at it.’

Aster bit into her cookie and waited for her grandfather to continue.

‘That said’--her grandfather looked at her seriously—’you also have to understand that the consequences for everyone in a group aren’t always the same. Or fair. Taking a stand is riskier for some.’

‘What do you mean?’ Aster asked.

‘Well, for example,’ he said, ‘in our group there were white kids and Black kids. All protesting the same thing. But if you have money and other privileges, like being white is a privilege, it’s easier to get out of trouble than if you’re poor and not white.’

Aster thought about her own group of friends and how the consequences might be different for each of them. She knew she didn’t have the money or the influence of a DiSanti. All she had on her side was what was right and true.

‘So, you think it’s important to fight for what you believe in even if it means getting in trouble,’ Aster said, looking her grandpa in the eye.

‘Sometimes it just can’t be helped,’ her grandfather said. ‘Sometimes the desire for change is bigger than anything else. It has to be.’”

 

For a nearly 400-page-long book, this was a surprisingly quick, compulsive read. The four characters are distinctive and well-drawn. There is mystery, comedy, hold-your-breath moments of tension, a treehouse, and a noisy rooster that sits in a tree and poops on cars. There are also allusions to FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES that will hopefully spur some readers to check out that classic.

 

STRANGE BIRDS is an enjoyable read for 8 to 12 year olds. It’ll be a good one for sharing between friends--or potential friends.

 

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

See more of Richie's Picks  http://richiespicks.pbworks.com

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