A girl worries about her father and pet bird, trapped by war, in this touching debut picture book by Kuburovic, based on her own experiences as a child in Sarajevo.
When Sasha was a little girl staying at her grandmother’s house, she bought a small, blue budgie, even though she knew her father didn’t want a pet bird in the house. But after her father sees the bird, he relents, and Riki becomes part of their family. The pet bird learns to speak a few phrases, watches television with Sasha’s parents, and even waits on a chair in Sasha’s room for her to wake up every morning. But budgies don’t live as long as humans, and when Sasha is a teenager, Riki gets sick and dies. The family misses him so much that Sasha’s father buys her a new budgie, whom they name after the first one. Sasha has to leave home to go to college, and soon war breaks out in her hometown of Sarajevo. Although Sasha and her mother are able to escape to Valjevo with Sasha’s grandmother, Riki and Sasha’s father are stuck in Sarajevo. Sasha sends care packages of food and seed to her father, who, for two years, successfully keeps Riki alive despite cruel winters with no heat or electricity. When they are finally able to leave the city, Riki becomes one of the only pets—and almost certainly the only budgie!—to survive the war. Brightly colored illustrations bring Sasha and the budgies to life, although the major difference between Sasha as a small girl and Sasha as she grows older is the length of her hair (she wears it shorter as a college student). Kuburovic tells her story in a matter-of-fact tone, neither romanticizing nor downplaying the struggles of those stuck in Sarajevo during the war years. While the story is about the birds, children may well become interested in knowing more about Sasha’s home country and the war that kept her apart from her father. Children interested in history, especially independent readers in upper elementary school, will find that these elements provide an entry point that makes it easy to identify with the larger story.
The touching wartime account of a separated family and their joyful reunion.