Swordbird, by Nancy Yi Fan; HarperCollins:
New York, 2007; $15.99
Imagine you live in a world of birds, of flight, of complete freedom. Imagine an evil hawk comes along and tries to steal your freedom and make you his slave. Imagine being caught up in a pointless, bloody war, for which your family and loved ones are sacrificing their lives.
Well, that's a lot of imagining to do, but with the help of Nancy Yi Fan, the amazing twelve-year-old author of Swordbird, it becomes an enthralling learning experience. Fan makes you laugh and cry with the birds and you feel like your life depends on bringing this war to an end.
Swordbird is a very important book. All too often books about war for kids are gruesome and depressing or silly and shallow. Not because the subject of war has to be incomprehensible, but because making the subject of war accessible to kids is not at all easy Fan does it perfectly Not only that, she brings it all together in a moral in the front flap: "What does fighting bring us? Fear, hatred, misery and death." By the time you finish the book you completely understand and agree with that statement.
The book tells the tale of two flocks of birds, the Cardinals and the Blue Jays. They have been peaceful friends for decades. Suddenly they see their eggs being stolen by what they identify as each other. After a bloody war ensues, they realize that it is an evil hawk, Slimebeak, who is stealing. He is hoping they will fight each other so that he can capture them without them standing up for one another. Then he plans to enslave all of them and become king of the forest. The two flocks become friends again and join in a fight for freedom. Soon they realize that all that can save them is the mythical hero and king of peace, Swordbird. United, the Blue Jays and Cardinals send two birds, Aska and Miltin, on a quest for the stone that must be present to summon Swordbird.
The gentle blue jay, Aska, was my favorite character. She was living in a war-torn world and yet she was the heroine of the story, she was strong and resolute, she went on the key mission and saved the day I really felt for her and cried for her when the brave robin, her love, Miltin, died, and it was because of her that I was really engaged in the book. I think Aska is a perfect role model because she is so good and kind in all ways.
I, however, found it confusing how new characters just kept coming. I thought that only half of them really needed to be there and I thought the extras just made it more complicated for me. I think the book would have been better with only the main characters and a few extras.
Swordbird is a magical book, a real page-turner, and though I won't spoil the end I'll tell you it's really satisfying. Fan says that the book is supposed to convey her feelings about terrorism and September H. She says that she was in the towers of the World Trade Center a month before they were destroyed and that it made a very big impression on her. You can definitely see that in the book, though it is set in a fantasy world.
As Fan is a not a native English speaker and she is only twelve years old, it has inspired me, and I think it will inspire more kids, to see that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.