Extraordinary Birds

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
Extraordinary Birds Book Poster Image
Foster kid learns to trust in beautiful, heartfelt story.

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lots of detailed information on many types of birds. Insight into how animal rescue groups work. A look into life of a foster kid, including home placements, meetings with social workers and therapists.

Positive Messages

It's important to protect yourself from hurt, but you can gain so much by opening your heart once in a while. Trust and kindness are foundations of healthy relationships. You are not a bad person because bad things happened to you. Show the kindness to yourself that you want from other people. Stand up for yourself, for others who are treated poorly.

Positive Role Models & Representations

December has been through a lot but still shows strength, resilience, curiosity, kindness. Eleanor is patient and loving with December. Cheryllynn is brave, doesn't let bullies get to her. She's a good friend when December needs one most. December's social worker and therapist are supportive, helpful to December. December is a foster kid, and her friend is transgender.

Violence & Scariness

A few scenes of verbal bullying and taunting in a school yard, which administration doesn't do anything about. Scars on December's back suggest past abuse, but no abuse is shown. Fleeting memories of her mom hurting, abandoning her. December tries to fly a few times, essentially jumping from trees and injuring herself.


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.

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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 care 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 shows 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 Birds deals with the issue of kids in the foster care system. What do you think it's like to move 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 interests that you can lose yourself in when you're going through a tough time? How does it help you?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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