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Be Kind Rewind

Four kids and one hound are all smiling, then frowning, then smiling by turns over the course of an eventful urban frolic, and that seems about right under the circumstances. For one, it’s a park, for two, they’re unleashed, and for three, there aren’t any adults around to tell them what to be feeling, or warn them about the sort of company a butterfly costume might invite, or otherwise smother them in Purell when our party happens upon the eponymous Dead Bird, more than sixty-five years after Margaret Wise Brown first imagined it – or, for that matter, “the quiet old lady whispering hush.”

Hard to know what nudged the editors at HarperCollins to hunt down another illustrator for this story (the great Remy Charlip once contributed his services, in 1995), and it’s hard to see exactly what Christian Robinson is adding to this newest iteration, though more important is probably what he’s not. Like gloves, which surely would have diluted the sensation of death, as the little bird’s heart has stopped beating and “it began to get cold, and the limp body grew stiff, so they couldn’t bend its legs and the head didn’t flop when they moved it.”

What’s that you say? West Nile? Yes, I’d love to have witnessed the liability arguments on this one, still I wonder if there wasn’t also a little pushback on the matter-of-fact paganism that pulses through these pages (not a little camouflaged by Robinson’s cheery, familiar tableau), as when the children can barely contain their exclamation points at being charged with such a passing, “because now they could dig a grave in the woods and bury it. They could have a funeral and sing to it the way grown-up people did when someone died.” Is it responsibility, or opportunity driving them? Either way, the switch feels pretty atavistic. You can practically smell the face paint here when they set to gathering white violets and geraniums, a song bubbling spontaneously forth:

“Oh bird you’re dead
You’ll never fly again
Way up high
With other birds in the sky
We sing to you
Because you’re dead
Feather bird
And we buried you
In the ground
With ferns and flowers
Because you will never fly
Again in the sky
Way up high
Little dead bird…”

Whereupon they all start crying because the singing was so beautiful, which is kind of hilarious, but deeply, mysteriously felt in a way that seems completely at odds with the crummy moralizing that tends to constitute religion when grown-ups are around. They’ll learn. What begins as simple kindness may bring us together, or help us remember, or point us in the direction of a higher power, though chances are it will require a little improvisation along the way.

Filed Under:  Animals    Death    Growing  

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