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The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Sandy Stark-McGinnis' Extraordinary Birds is a sweet coming-of-age story about a girl named December, who wants to become a bird in order to fly away from her life in foster care. Even though December has some abuse in her background and moves frequently between foster homes, the story never gets too intense or graphic. Readers will get a sense of how the lack of stability affects some foster kids and how social workers and therapists help them. The book highlights the resilience, curiosity, and kindness of most of the characters. Facts about birds factor into the story, too. December and a trans kid get bullied at school. Families will find a lot to talk about regarding adversity, inner strength, hope, and learning how and when to trust others.
What's the story?
In EXTRAORDINARY BIRDS, foster kid December has convinced herself that the scars her mother left on her back are where wings will sprout when she turns into a bird. She wants more than anything to fly away from her life in the foster system, where she has cycled through more than 10 homes and schools in her 12 years on the planet. Her obsession with birds provides a refuge from her unstable life, but it also serves as a way for her to stay emotionally isolated and protect herself from hurt and uncertainty. Her foster homes never work out and she's never had a friend, but deep down, she keeps a sliver of hope for happiness alive. When her social worker places her with a kind animal-rescuer named Eleanor, December starts to break out of her fantasy of becoming a bird and engages with the world around her. Trusting others is hard for her, but she learns that the risk of hurt is worth the reward of family and friendship.
Is it any good?
This story about a foster kid who desperately -- and literally -- wants to fly away from her life is emotional, bittersweet, and ultimately uplifting. In her first novel, author Sandy Stark-McGinnis deftly walks the line between showing the sadness and uncertainty in main character December's life without letting the story get too intense or heavy. December is a great character, and the story is told from her point of view. Her narrative is engaging and heart-rending, showing how kids in tough circumstances have to protect themselves emotionally. Her rich inner life is an important way for her to maintain hope for a brighter future, but the author pulls her back to reality before her delusion gets too annoying or unbelievable. Aside from the school bullies, the other characters are wonderful and caring. The book has a gentle tone but also brings to light the emotional cost of life in foster care. This is an excellent read for middle-grade readers and up.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way Extraordinary Bird deals with the issue of kids in the foster-care system. What do you think it is like moving between homes frequently? Do you think December's way of dealing with it is realistic?
How much trust do you have in the people in your life? Are there ideas and worries you don't feel comfortable sharing? Why or why not?
Do you have any activities or interest that you can lose yourself in when going through a tough time? How does it help you?
- Author: Sandy Stark-McGinnis
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's Books
- Publication date: April 30, 2019
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 224
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, Kindle
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.