A beautifully written first person narrative that draws the reader into mid-nineteenth century Scotland. This is the first in series and I’m sure I won’t be the only one looking forward to book two and to losing myself in another new world.
Bridie MacKerrie – known to her family as Little Bird – has a bent foot and one arm that’s weak and withered but she’s full of life and dreams. She dreams of leaving the remote Scottish island of Tornish where she lives with her father, two older sisters and younger brother. She dreams of flying across the sea to America and the New World but she knows that will never happen. Her mother always said they were lucky to live in the Highlands and her father is determined to support his girls to stay. However, when the old Laird dies and a new family move into the big house everything changes. The new Laird of the island is cruel and dangerous and it’s not long before Little Bird and her family have to escape in search of a new life – a life that will take them first to Glasgow before forcing them to make a second even more dramatic escape.
I’ve only ever read one other book by Karen McCombie: St Grizzle’s School for Girls, Goats and Random Boys is a mad cap adventure in the style of Roald Dahl or David Walliams. Little Bird Flies couldn’t be more different. In place of the silliness of St Grizzle’s, we have a beautifully written first person narrative that’s more akin to literary fiction. We immediately identify with Little Bird, sharing her excitement at the prospect of visitors to their remote island and sympathising with her frustrations at being trapped on Tornish.
It’s refreshing to have a lead character who is so obviously not fazed by her disability (although keenly aware of the very different perception of many others). Indeed, I loved the fact that our first encounter with Little Bird is one of strength: she’s racing her friend, Will, to the summit of the Glas Crags and winning because the uneven surface of the crags is the one time she’s not disadvantaged by her twisted foot. Her strength of character is also cleverly reinforced when we meet Miss Tulliver who envies Little Bird’s confidence and who, during the course of the story, comes to follow Little Bird’s lead and learns to deal with her own disfigurement.
The other characters are equally well drawn, particularly the new Laird Mr Palmer-Reeves and Little Bird’s younger brother, Lachlan. Indeed, once the family escape to Glasgow, Lachlan becomes a particularly complex and intriguing character and his development helps shape the story’s structure. (Sorry to say more may give away too much of the plot).
While this is undoubtedly a character-driven story, it’s also worth mentioning the perfectly realised setting. We’re easily immersed in the world surrounding Little Bird – whether that’s life as a crofter on the remote Scottish island or the bustle of Glasgow – and we’re guided through life in mid-nineteenth century Scotland without a moment’s confusion. It looks like Little Bird is off to America in the second book in this gripping series and I’m sure I won’t be the only one looking forward to losing myself in another new world.
If you enjoyed this, why not try another middle grade historical story: I’m a huge fan of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr which tells the story of another young girl’s escape, this time from the Nazis. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something that’s been published more recently, why not try Flight by Vanessa Harbour.
Publication date: January 2019
Publisher: Nosy Crow
Author’s website: Karen McCombie