THE SILVER SWAN by Michael Morpurgo


Age Range: 7 - 9
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One of the best-known English madrigals is “The Silver Swan,” a haunting melody about a swan’s dying song written in 1612 by Orlando Gibbons, and familiar to anyone who has spent much time in a choir robe. The piercing melancholy of this famous song permeates this sad and rather disturbing book, another example of the newer breed of picture books for adults masquerading as stories for children. A young, unnamed, and apparently motherless boy tells a wordy, first-person story of his fascination with a silver swan who swims in the pond on the boy’s farm. The swan’s mate arrives, cygnets arrive, the hungry fox arrives, and it’s the bloody scene from every National Geographic wildlife TV special all over again. The boy is horrified at the cruel course of nature and hears the swan’s dying song (mercifully offstage) before he finds a “terrible wreath of white feathers nearby.” He expresses his anger at losing “his” silver swan, wanting to kill the fox, but then realizes that the fox is a mother with children to feed, too. In the last pages, the boy observes the bereaved male swan alone and languishing as soon as his babies are grown, until another female arrives at the pond to become the swan’s new mate. It’s hard to know who would choose this book, although its large, landscape-format illustrations in chalk pastels by Birmingham are undeniably exquisite. The story is too long, lyrical, and sad for preschoolers and the format of an oversized picture book is too young for older elementary students. It might possibly be comforting as a gift to someone who is bereaved, but the facile replacement of the swan’s mate provides a “life goes on” message that might be cruel in itself. Perhaps it’s just for adult collectors of beautiful picture books, then, or for those who appreciate the pathos of a swan song. Despite beautiful art, a misguided attempt that fails to take flight. (Picture book. 7-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-8037-2543-4
Page count: 32pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2000


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