A Brooklyn crime family of sea gulls threatens the territory of a “wiseguy” sea gull in New Jersey in Chiarella’s debut children’s book.
A great black-backed gull named Hurricane earned his name by surviving a storm. Humans took him in to tend his broken wing, and the metal band that they affixed to his leg is a constant reminder to other birds of Hurricane’s resilience. He’s the boss of the Tommies, an avian gang based in Toms River, New Jersey. Over in New York are the Bennies, led by Bruno da Boss, a large herring gull. Bruno decides that Brooklyn is too hot and stinky, so he picks the Jersey shore as an ideal spot to cool off; he also plans to settle “some stuff” with his adversary, Hurricane. A fight quickly breaks out between the two families that’s temporarily halted by the sight of Tracy and Dyna, a couple of vacationing South Philly sea gulls. A war, however, is imminent, as Bruno wants the beach—and when some of his crew get sick, he blames Hurricane. But it soon becomes clear that something else is making the gulls sick, and Hurricane figures that he can get assistance from the humans who previously helped him. Chiarella’s story, gang war notwithstanding, is lighthearted and educational. The gulls, for example, set aside their differences for the greater good, and younger readers may be inspired to research the diverse types of birds herein. Nevertheless, the dialogue is the real star: Chiarella phoneticizes the characters’ Jersey and Brooklyn lilts, as in “yooze guys” or “Jeetjet,” the latter of which requires a translation (“did ya eat yet?”). The skirmishes between the crews are never violent, and the real dangers are outside forces, from aggressive hawks to whatever’s making the gulls ill. Muccio’s cartoonish illustrations fill entire pages with details, including anthropomorphic character traits, such as Hurricane’s impressive pompadour. Sadly, it’s all over too soon, but a planned sequel with these winged characters seems feasible.
A clever and thoroughly entertaining story—with a moral, to boot.