At 14 and 11, my daughters are past the days of having Mom or Dad read to them at bedtime. They’ve moved on to The Hunger Games trilogy, John Green novels, and the like, but it wasn’t all that long ago that we would read picture books together. Had the delightful Spit and Sticks: A Chimney Full of Swifts been published seven or eight years back, it certainly would have been part of our nightly routine.
The book tells the story of a pair of Chimney Swifts that arrive at a Texas farm in spring, build a nest inside the chimney (where else?), lay eggs, incubate them, and feed their hungry youngsters. Later, when the days grow colder and the leaves change color, the birds “join other swifts to become a black blur in the early-winter sky,” heading south.
Author Marilyn Grohoske Evans bases her story on Chimney Swift natural history yet uses language that her target audience — three- to seven-year-olds — will understand easily. Kudos to her for sticking to the facts and for keeping her young readers in mind.
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While the birds’ story progresses up in the chimney, a mother, father, and young daughter in the house below prepare for the arrival of a new baby. The wordless illustrations of the farm family parallel the changes in the swift family, offering a subtle hint that we aren’t all that different from our winged neighbors.
Perhaps the book’s greatest asset is its illustrations, by Nicole Gsell. I would imagine that a tale for children about a drab-colored bird, no matter how engaging, would be a tough sell to publishers. Gsell, however, presents a world bursting with color: Yes, her watercolors show the birds in shades of gray, but what stands out are the many hues of green, yellow, orange, blue, purple, and red in the yard, the sky, the chimney, and other settings.
Grohoske Evans’s words and Gsell’s illustrations, I would venture to bet, will help many a young reader discover and appreciate the fascinating little swifts that nest in our chimneys and swoop through our summer skies.
Spit and Sticks: A Chimney Full of Swifts, by Marilyn Grohoske Evans and Nicole Gsell (illustrator), Charlesbridge, 32 pages, hardcover, $16.95.
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