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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Between the fact that Alastair absorbs all the content of the books he devours and Fritz's obsession with scientific detail, there's a lot of information packed into this story, from the habits of African grey parrots to great works of world literature. Also lots of Latin proverbs, and a TV cooking show host who exclaims "Perfetto!" a lot.
Strong messages of how things may not turn out the way you want or the way you've planned -- but what happens might turn out to be pretty great also. Strong messages of friendship, family, loyalty, and sticking together. Along the way, as characters deal with their struggles, the story invites a lot of empathy as readers learn what's behind a lot of quirky behavior that at first glance just seems a little strange.
Positive Role Models
Some characters (notably Pete the pet shop owner) are pretty awful people, and others (like Fritz's forever absent father) are a big disappointment. But the characters we come to care about -- Alastair, Aggie, Fritz, and Birdie -- are all odd, frail, impaired, but remarkably determined souls who often get something wrong but manage to keep finding ways to be there for each other.
Violence & Scariness
As story opens, Alastair and Aggie's nestmate is found dead emerging from his egg, and the sad little corpse is buried at the cemetery. Not once but twice, Alastair gets thrown against a wall by the human he's just bitten, and gets his wing broken. In addition, he falls prey to feather-picking and gradually pulls out every feather on his body due to stress. Aggie is always in poor health because the pet shop is a dismal place where the animals are often unfed or neglected, and sometimes die (or get devoured). Some characters are scarred and grieving over deaths of loved ones.
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From time to time, animals pee, poop, and sniff each other's butts.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that like its lead characters, The Simple Art of Flying, by Cory Leonardo, is stubbornly odd, stuffed with off-the-wall literary and cultural references -- and a strong statement that yeah, some pretty awful stuff happens in life, but friends and family help each other out, and sometimes things turn out better than you could have imagined, if you give them a chance. It's a tale told by Alastair, an increasingly battered (sometimes thanks to his fondness for biting), increasingly bald (thanks to his feather-picking habit) African grey parrot, who loves his sweet sister Aggie and wants to live in a tree with her, instead of in a dismal pet shop where they're about to be sold and never see each other again. It's also told by 12-year-old weird kid and budding doctor Fritz, who's struggling with the loss of his family-ditching father and the death of his beloved grandfather, and who loves and cares for all the animals but especially for Aggie. A third narrator is eccentric old lady Birdie, who writes letters to her late husband, Everett, and never hears from her son except when he's trying to get her to leave her longtime home and move to a retirement community. As their lives become intertwined, there are plenty of poignant moments, hilarious moments, desperate moments, surprising moments. There's also a lot of science (Fritz's notes) and literature (as Alastair's book-devouring causes him to start writing poetry), in addition to peeing, pooping, and butt-sniffing by pet shop residents.
Is It Any Good?
There's a lot of heart and sweetness in Cory Leonardo's quirkily soulful tale of African grey parrots, smart lonely people, and their intertwined lives. Also a lot of literature (as young parrot Alastair gets inspired by the poetry books he eats) and scientific detail as 12-year-old budding doctor Fritz takes notes. The Simple Art of Flying brings unforgettable characters facing troubles that will resonate with many readers, from grief, loss, jealousy, and betrayal to self-harm -- and encouragement from unexpected places.
Here, 12-year-old Fritz, on "just seeing what happens":
"Sometimes, what happens is ... you end up crying in the bathroom during seventh period because you wrote a whole lot of ideas on how to get your dad to move back, and after James and the kids at your lunch table tell you that they won't work, you go to the office to call your mom because you need to know if they're right, and by the way she sounds when she answers your questions, you realize he's never coming home.
"Sometimes you might break a parrot's wing.
"Or a person could be sitting next to you. You're getting some practice filling out a medical chart, and he's talking to you about the time he was flipping burgers and a squirrel ran right up and got caught in his pant leg. And you tell yourself he's probably just tired and needs a nap, because he can't even talk right. But later, you watch from your window as a bunch of paramedics load him into an ambulance and drive away.
"Sometimes it's the bad things that happen. My stomach hurts just thinking about it."
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.