Book Review: “Song for Papa Crow”

Song for Papa Crow coverThere are a lot of picture books out there. Light-hearted, fun, goofy ones. Serious, introspective ones. Crazy, wild, break-the-mold ones. But many – most, even – won’t stand the test of time.

Why?

Because it takes something special to connect with multiple readers, on multiple levels, for a multitude of years. That “something” doesn’t always come easily, and usually can’t even be anticipated; it just happens. And when it does happen…it’s a wonderful thing.

Song for Papa Crow (Schiffer, 2012) by Marit Menzin is such a book. I was introduced to it earlier this year and have been wanting to share my thoughts for months. Now, with Christmas upon us in just a few days, I’m glad I’m finally getting the chance.

The premise of the book teaches an age-old lesson of being true to oneself in an original way: Little Crow loves to sing, but the local songbirds very much dislike the sound of his “Caw! Caw!” When Little Crow learns from Mockingbird how to sing like the other birds, he thinks his troubles are over; however, when Hawk snatches him away, his father is unable to save him at first because Little Crow doesn’t sound like a crow. Ultimately, Little Crow is saved when he realizes the importance of singing his own song.

Papa Crow spread
Click to enlarge

 

Being true to oneself, as I said, is not a new concept for a picture book – but what’s important here is how it is told. I have no use for picture books that are overtly didactic or heavy-handed in their moralizing. What Menzin does so well in Song for Papa Crow is she tells a story that happens to have a moral to it – she doesn’t tell the moral in the form of a story.

The language is bright and full of all the activity one would expect from a forest filled with birds. When the Goldfinches sing, “per-CHIC-o-ree!” and Red Cardinal shouts, “what-CHEER!” it makes you feel the birds are right there with you. Menzin’s beautiful cut-paper collage illustrations add to the effect, with vibrant colors and intricate details.

To be honest, the book is not without its drawbacks. I wished the solution to the problem wasn’t quite as easy as Menzin makes it (Little Crow takes a seed and gives back a seed, but how he sings with a seed in his mouth is anyone’s guess) – but the story as a whole is a pleasure to read.

The publisher describes the book as appropriate for kids K-Grade 2, but I surmise that any children through grades 5 or 6 would find this book a joy to read. As a parent, I certainly did.

As you may know, I don’t review many books here – and I rarely, if ever, review non-poetry or non-rhyming picture books – but this one deserves your attention. If you missed it when it came out 2 years ago, track down a copy. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

* You can learn more about this and Schiffer Publishing’s other books HERE, or view the trailer for Song for Papa Crow HERE.

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