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HELEN'S BIRDS by Sara Cassidy


by Sara Cassidy ; illustrated by Sophie Casson

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-77306-038-5
Publisher: Groundwood

This wordless graphic novel is surprisingly direct in its treatment of intergenerational friendship, grief, and hope.

Casson’s four-color illustrations—rendered in colored pencil, Photoshop, and pastel—gently take up Cassidy’s story of a mother and her young child who move into a new neighborhood and befriend an elderly neighbor: Helen. Panels of varying sizes trace the child’s friendship with Helen over what appears to be several years as they play cards, read together, and study the birds that visit Helen’s yard. One night, the child is awakened by sirens and flashing lights, silently conveyed through disorienting, large red circles splashed across the pages. From the window, the child sees Helen being loaded into an ambulance; within two pages, Helen’s house is for sale. The child observes workmen removing Helen’s bird feeder and birdbath before the house itself is demolished, but the child does not appear to process the grief triggered by Helen’s passing until discovering one of their playing cards in the construction rubble. Facing grief seems to empower the child to move forward and carry on Helen’s legacy, tenderly rescuing a bird’s nest from a bush on Helen’s old property. Soon, the neighborhood is bursting with bird song once more. The three main characters, and indeed all others excepting two brown-skinned passersby, have yellow skin that could be read here as white.

A moving testimony to the process of navigating abrupt, painful change—and the life-altering impact of true friendship

. (Graphic novel. 6-10)