Swordbird by Nancy Yi Fan
Are authors born or can that storytelling gift be developed? I’m starting to think more and more that authors are born. I suspect that stories pour out of their minds in an endless gush; that they have a physical craving to put pen to paper (or type on a keyboard, as it were); and that they spend every waking moment thinking about things like setting, plot, and character. As I meet children’s book authors and hear their stories, one thing is clear: they all wrote exceptionally well as children. Their gifts were apparent young in life. We’re talking, ages 8 or 9. Maybe that is not so different from star athletes that shine at a young age??!
In the case of Nancy Yi Fan, it’s clear she was born with a special gift. My 10-year-old, nearly 11-year-old brought home this book for me to blog on. (At the same age, Nancy had banged out a draft of this fantasy chapter book and was sending it into publishers!). My daughter loves fantasy which is not my favorite genre. She and our mother’s helper shared their cache of Warriors books — the really popular chapter book fantasy adventure series about anthropomorphic feral cats. I don’t get that series and had to ask Capability:Mom what was up with the popularity of that series? When my daughter forced me to read aloud with her, I finally protested and had to switch books. I’m not one for battles with characters dying off right and left. And why does one cat have to be so evil?! That’s the whole point, CapabilityMom told me. They get to experience “scary behavior” in a safe way because the characters are not HUMAN! Get it?!! Well, I sorta do and I sorta don’t.
Swordbird is of that same ilk as Warriors which is why my daughter loved it. Nancy Yi Fan is well versed in birds, having birds as pets and she puts the different species into good use. (Who knew that selection of family pets could be living changing decision?! That is the thing about life-changing decisions. You don’t realize until LATER!).
Back to the birds. Ravens: bad. Falcons: the worst of all. Bluebirds, Cardinals, and all little birds: good. I’m not sure if I love this. Remember how the wolf got characterized as bad in children’s literature which definitely, but alas I have no data, contributed to the demise of wolves. I happen to be a big fan of falcons after reading My Side of the Mountain. I’m in good company with Robert Kennedy, Jr. whose life changed after reading My Side of the Mountain (and hanging out with the author as a kid). He is also a champion of the falcon.
Anyway, I digress. Swordbird IS a very good read. I highly recommend it if only to show to kids everywhere that being a kid and publishing a popular book is within the realm of possibility!
For those that want a real plot summary, click here. For a stream-of-consciousness plot summary, here goes: Evil Hawk Turnatt enslaves woodland birds and plots to take over the entire forest. Once friendly Blue Jays and Cardinals now at war because of missing eggs and food which are actually stolen by evil Turnatt and his crew of Ravens and Blackbirds. They want mythical Swordbird to save the day but they must fulfill the quest to find a special stone to call him. A few enslaved birds escape Turnatt to warn Blue Jays and Cardinals. A big battle ensues.
This chapter book is recommended for ages 8-12. It’s probably more appealing to girls than boys. If your child has finished all the Erin Hunter books, try this one.
Here’s an interview with Nancy Yi Fan from School Library Journal. Here’s her amazing story:
Is it true you sent this manuscript in to HarperCollins cold, without an agent?
I sent it to HarperCollins by e-mail. I sent it to the president and CEO of HarperCollins. I’m just a kid who believes hard work pays off. And the president and CEO was very surprised and passed it on to the president of the children’s division and the children’s book division and a nice lady told me they were going to look at it because they were interested. It was very, very surprising.
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.