Lyrical text and soaring imagery give school-age children a taste of war, peace, freedom, and military service.
The opening spread of author/illustrator Meyer’s debut mentions clouds floating as young Lee and her mother walk in the park to a tree where a red bird lands. Somewhat oddly, the impressionistic first illustration doesn’t show the girl or her mother; in fact, the textured paintings regularly evoke feelings rather than the simple storyline, a setup that works better in some places than others. The next spread focuses on the girl, the bird, and the tree opposite an indistinct soldier on a bench. Lee strikes up a conversation with the soldier about the bird. Their dialogue is rather stilted: after looking at his duffel bag, Lee asks the soldier where he’s going, to which the soldier responds: “I’m going to war in another country, little one….I sure will miss my home and family, but my job to protect our country is an important one.” The mother thanks him for his service, and walking off, Lee asks, “What is war, mommy?” After defining “war” and “the military,” her mother says, “The military protects countries, people, land, seas, and freedoms.” When Lee asks, “What is freedom?” her mother points out people enjoying the park. The dreamy art, meanwhile, features few humans, but rather kites and a butterfly floating over a blue-green backdrop of skyscrapers. As the bird flies after the soldier, “Lee imagined seeing the soldier’s journey through the eyes of the bird. She remembered what he had said”: “We’ll protect your seas. We’ll protect your skies. We’ll protect your lands. And we’ll protect your freedoms.” (Curiously, that’s instead what her mother had said.) Each realm of protection gets a spread featuring an abstract depiction of what’s being protected: a boat at sea, a rainbow-colored plane, flowers and grass, and, for freedom, the Constitution, children playing, and the American flag. The bird, which travels across these varied realms, “was tossed above countries at war”—fiery paint suggest an explosion—“and drifted over the countries at peace,” where the bird coasts through deep-blue skies. Leaving the park, Lee wonders, “Will the soldier be okay?’ ” and her mother explains how her grandfather returned with worn boots, a limp, and tales of missing home. “That’s why we thank soldiers and veterans for keeping us safe,” she says. “They have sacrificed so much.” Though the text/illustration couplings are often inadequate and indirect, they succeed in several instances, as in the impressive painting of the bird perched upon a worn combat boot. In the final, most moving spread, Lee stands beside rows of soldiers’ graves, telling the bird, “You’re home, you’re protected, and you’re free.” Though that message isn’t superbly conveyed here, Meyer’s visually striking book opens the door to a deeper conversation.
Gentle handling of a difficult but important subject.