When I was in mid elementary, my class was given the opportunity in something that would change my life forever. I know that's a bit dramatic, but looking back, it's one of those 'small step' times in my life that I can see how it made a difference in how I see the world. I signed up for a penpal who lived half the globe away. If my memory is correct than I was able to choose the top 3 countries or regions that I'd like to have a penpal from. For a large part of my K-8 career, I wanted to be an archaeologist, and I was ecstatic that I was able to receive letters from a girl my age in the country I read about a lot in my free time--Egypt.
When I received the first letter from my penpal, I couldn't wait to open it. The stamps, the envelope, the stationary--everything was so different than I had ever seen. This girl, my age, was named Yasmine and had dark eyes like me, and covered hair in her school photo. It was interesting to me that she would have her hair covered by a cloth (it should be said the place I grew up wasn't very diverse, at least I didn't know anyone who looked unlike me in a noticeable way until I was older), since I had never seen that before. She was very pretty, and drew me lovely pictures every time she wrote. Even her little brother wanted to write to me! We asked each other the regular questions: what's your favorite school subject? What's your favorite thing to eat? and I would marvel that something so flimsy-a piece of paper-could fly halfway around the world, not get lost, and contain so many differences, even the way she constructed her sentences was different than me!
Twenty years later and I still have every single piece she sent. We had never met, and yet nearly 7,000 miles between us, we had a friendship through letters, drawings, questions, and school photos. Looking back, I know this small, actionable step was part of what made me me, because my view of the world got bigger through those letters. It was an experience where my interest in travel, cultures around the world, and my thirst for knowledge expanded and swelled. I wanted to know more about more people, not only in Egypt, but in other countries, too. I would go on to communicate with two other girls across the globe, one in Malaysia, and one in Ukraine, but never did I have the same rapport as with my first penpal, Yasmine. She was a friend who was so different, and yet, our differences made us interesting to each other. We both wanted to know more about each other, and that kept our communication alive.
I tell you this story because pieces of our past are interesting to others, even if they seem so small and insignificant to us. This was a memory from almost two decades ago, but it made such an impact on me that slowly, over the years of communicating with Yasmine, my worldview changed to open up to topics that still interest me today, travel, history, culture, diversity, and cross-cultural or unlikely relationships. If you wrap all that up in a book, well, then I'm sold.
Blue Birds is a story about some of these things: historical markers, tensions between cultures, but at it's core, it's about unlikely friendships. The story takes place in the New World, specifically, the second set of new settlers from England and the Roanoke people who already live there. Alis,the main character from the settlement, finds her new surroundings beautiful, raw, and pure, and can't get enough of the natural world. She stumbles upon a native Roanoke girl, Kimi,and they communicate together secretly through symbols, facial expressions, touch, and gifts.
Life in the New World is tough, and there are tensions between these Englishmen and women and the woodlands people, blood is shed. As readers, we are allowed into Alis's and Kimi's thoughts, and we're given insight into the cultural biases and misunderstandings. All this, and it's written in poetry. There is a quick pace to this large historical novel, and I could have read it in just one sitting if I didn't have to force myself to go to bed. The poems are accessible, and even with less detail than is normally given to a novel, the word images, plot line, climax and resolution don't miss a beat because of Rose's fine tuning. The ending even left me surprised, and that doesn't happen often with the YA fiction I've read.
This post is part of a week-long celebration in honor of the book Blue Birds. Author Caroline Starr Rose is giving away a downloadable PDF of this beautiful Blue Birds quote (created by Annie Barnett of Be Small Studios) for anyone who pre-orders the book from . Simply click through to order from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, IndieBound, or Powell's, then email a copy of your receipt firstname.lastname@example.org by . PDFs will be sent out .
*I was given an advance reader's copy to review in exchange for a blog post/review, but the opinions expressed are entirely my own.