5 children’s summer reading books to build a better world

Girl (4-5) standing on seashore, looking at bird taking off, rear view

This summer, the theme for Massachusetts libraries is “Build a better world one small gesture at a time.” It opens the door for families with young readers to share stories of kind deeds that may seem simple in the grand scheme of things, but unlock passageways to a greater good.

Birds and broken wings lend themselves to messages of hope, empathy, journeys into creating friendships and to heart wrenching, but necessary farewells. Here is a list of children’s books about birds that make great summer reads.

There are few words in the texts of these books, few words are required. Each book is illustrated by the author and provides visual cues to engage the reader and move the story forward. Depicted are the kindest and gentlest of characters, who take injured birds “under their wings” to care for them, grow to love them, and then in the true spirit of great friendship, let them go.

South by Daniel Duncan is about a lone fisherman who takes an injured bird into his care. They are good company for each other, riding the seas together. The fisherman realizes that his course would set him on a path that would be too cold for his avian companion. Although he is forlorn, he sets a new course to find a more ideal location for the bird before he sails home himself.

Also titled South by Patrick McDonnell, a cat named Mooch comes upon a bird who has slept through the commencement of the migration of his flock. Typical of McDonnell’s style there are few words, except the “weep, weep, weep” of the lost bird. No words are required to impart the story as the cat and bird walk hand-in-hand through the country and city, through falling leaves and snow to catch up to the migrating flock.

Recently published is Pandora by Victoria Turnbull. Pandora, a fox, lives in a world of broken things that she fixes for reuse. A bird with a broken wing seems an appropriate challenge. As the bird grows stronger and flies again, it brings back treasures from the outside world – seeds and flowers. When the bird does not return, Pandora is extraordinarily sad and sleeps her days away. In the meantime, the gifts her bird friend left behind grow into flowers and plants that bring her and her world to life.

Bob Graham’s How to Heal a Broken Wing is a reminder for us all to pay close attention to the world around us. A small boy in the big, busy city is the only one to notice an injured pigeon on the sidewalk. His mom helps him to wrap the bird gently in a scarf and they bring it home – in her purse on the subway. His dad helps to bandage the bird’s wing and create a comfortable place for the pigeon to mend. Over time the bird does heal and grow stronger. And then, most bravely, the boy releases the recovered bird back into the air.

The Tree, A Fable by Neal Layton is a wonderful example of how humans sometimes effect the lives of other species quite by mistake. A couple looks over a plot of land with building plans for their new home. To build this house they must start by cutting down a tree, which turns out to be home to a family of birds, squirrels, owls and rabbits. Surprised and heartbroken by the damage they have done, the couple finds a way to incorporate the natural habitats in their new home.

Laurie Collins is a 2014 Mass Literacy Champion. She is also the author of the children’s picture book The Pajamas of My Dreams, and she is the Children’s Librarian in Ipswich, MA. Learn more about Laurie here.