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FREE by Sam Usher Kirkus Star


by Sam Usher ; illustrated by Sam Usher

Pub Date: April 20th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-5362-1704-9
Publisher: Templar/Candlewick

A child and grandfather help a fine feathered friend.

The child’s first-person narration recounts the discovery of a sickly bird one morning. The grandfather and child (who both appear White) nurse the bird back to health throughout the course of the day. Each time they do something for the bird, they leave it outside to set it free, but it returns to them. Finally, the grandfather suggests that they search for a tree like one he sees alongside a picture of the same type of bird in a bird book. At this point in the story, the colorful watercolor-and-ink illustrations take a turn toward the fantastic, with the child and grandfather traversing rocky, mountainous terrain to reach the tree and the mild, English pastel palette taking on dramatic tones. Soon after they reach their destination, an enormous flock of colorful birds (depicted on the cover) alights on the branches, with the human characters perched alongside them. They all enjoy a “midnight feast” of oversized berries and then the birds fly the child and grandfather “all the way home” for breakfast. Usher’s art, which bears a resemblance to Quentin Blake’s style, makes the most of panels to show sequential movement in this scene. The mechanics of the feat are not quite clear, but the thrill is. The bird they rescued stays with the flock, but there’s no sadness in that fact (though the child hopes that the bird “visits again tomorrow”).

Opening itself up to myriad conversations and interpretations, Free is fabulous.

(Picture book. 3-6)