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Once Upon a Time a Sparrow by Mary Avery Kabrich

Once Upon a Time a Sparrow

by Mary Avery Kabrich

Publisher: Open Wings Press

A school psychologist works to accept her own past while also fighting for her students.

In Kabrich’s debut novel, 47-year-old Mary Madelyn Meyers, a psychologist in a Minnesota school system in 2005, struggles to maintain a professional demeanor after her mother dies. She argues with a rage bordering on violence against teachers who want to hold back students with disabilities or different learning styles. When she begins seeing social worker Irene Ingersoll, readers learn that these outbursts, which Mary calls “the mercurial monster,” are linked to her childhood. Back in 1967, Mary was in third grade, went by the nickname “Maddie,” and struggled with severe dyslexia. Her teacher, Mrs. Zinc, classified readers at different levels as types of birds: the best readers were “eagles” and the slowest, “sparrows.” Maddie, time after time, was labeled a sparrow, and she lived in fear of repeating third grade as a result. However, when Mrs. Zinc began reading a new story, The Fairy Angel’s Gift, in class, Maddie became inspired to put new energy into her reading; she stole the book and began working hard on it outside of class. As these two plotlines develop, the older Mary balances her personal struggles and professional life, Maddie learns to read The Fairy Angel’s Gift, and Kabrich reveals an engaging story of self-actualization. The primary motor of the narrative is Mary’s quest for stability in the workplace, but its emotional core rests in the third-grader’s struggle; Maddie’s earnest effort to push herself is endearing and inspiring. Still, the true strength of Kabrich’s novel isn’t its story but rather the important issues to which it draws readers’ attention. Maddie, and the students that she works with as an adult, exemplifies the countless kids that don’t conform to common academic standards. The author demonstrates how school administrations can allow these children to fall through the cracks, sometimes causing lifelong damage to their confidence and learning abilities. It’s an important lesson for everyone to learn and one that Kabrich teaches well.

A heartwarming story of how a young woman confronted dyslexia and went on to help others.