The sequel to Little Bird Flies, we may be in a different continent but the narrative and world-building are equally impressive. This historical story is perfectly pitched for a middle-grade reader.
It’s New York, 1864 and Bridie MacKerrie – known to her family as Little Bird – has escaped a cruel and dangerous life in Scotland. Along with her father and younger brother, Little Bird has landed in America. Her dream of building a new life has, however, been thwarted by the civil war the American people are fighting over the issue of slavery. Little Bird’s family give up their plans to homestead and decide to stay in the city – until they’re caught up in a fire caused by a confederate bomb. Suddenly, they’re on the move again. They secure a place to stay in a remote copper mining community in Hawk’s Point, Michigan. After a rocky start, Little Bird begins to settle – even taking on the role of teacher to the younger children. Then a ghost from her Scottish past appears and Little Bird and her family find themselves, like so many immigrants to America, heading west with very little in their hands but hope in their hearts.
I thoroughly enjoyed Karen McCombie’s previous book about Bridie – Little Bird Flies – and remember being very impressed by the beautifully written first-person narrative that so effective drew the reader into mid-nineteenth century Scotland. In the sequel, Little Bird Lands, we may be in a different continent but the narrative and world-building are equally impressive. It would be easy for middle grade age readers to be put off by an accurate historical novel, especially if they had to plough through detailed descriptions in order to understand the settings. Fortunately, this is not the case and the reader is effortlessly immersed in life in the USA in the 1860s. It is easy to picture the details of Little Bird’s world but you are barely aware of any description as the focus throughout is on the character and the plot.
I particularly liked the way the story subtly highlights some of the important issues from the period, prompting the reader to consider these without making this an ‘issue’ book. The most obvious example is the plot around Jean (from the Chippewa) which highlights the treatment of the native population. The role of women during the period is also illustrated by the way the people of Hawk’s Point pointedly refuse treatment from their new, highly-skilled, doctor purely on the grounds of her gender.
While the setting feels historically accurate and entirely believable, there is one element of the plot that is less plausible. Little Bird has a strong belief in the existence of an ‘invisible thread’ that links the lives of people, giving the example of how immigrants from Scotland to America often end up in the same communities in the New World even when their route there has been very different. This happens more than once in this story – when they discover the identity of mine manager’s wife and several times when they head west. As a plot device this does, however, work well and it also allows for a wonderful, not to mention tear-jerking, climax and conclusion.
If you enjoyed this, you should make sure you’ve read Little Bird Flies by Karen McCombie. Alternatively, for another middle grade story in a historical setting, why not try Through the Mirror Door by Sarah Baker.
Publication date: February 2020
Publisher: Nosy Crow
Author’s website: Karen McCombie