Silhouette of a Sparrow
Winner of the Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature!
A first novel for young adults that wonderfully evokes the historical period of the 1920s, a love of birding, and a girl’s coming-of-age and sexual awareness.
I was born blue. Life ripped me early from my safe place and thrust me into the world. It was all so astonishing that I forgot to breathe. . . . My mother gave me life that day, but I was the one who decided to take it. I claimed it for myself.
So begins the story of Garnet Richardson. A robin singing on the windowsill helped revive her at birth, so the tale is told, and from that moment on, Garnet has had a special relationship to birds. But by the age of twelve, she replaces tree-climbing and exploring birds’ nests with cutting silhouettes and needlepoint, at the insistence of her mother. That all changes when Garnet is allowed to spend the summer with well-to-do relatives in the 1926 Minnesota vacation spot of Excelsior, where a new amusement park has recently been built and a large dance hall beckons, both to the dismay of Garnet’s summer guardian, Mrs. Harrington.
Mrs. Harrington and her daughter, Hannah, are not to be her vacation companions, however. Garnet soon convinces her elders that a summer job is the right activity for a girl of sixteen. One first taste of freedom leads to others, back to the pleasures of nature, and eventually to the pleasures of the company of another young woman, Isabella. Though her beau, Teddy, waits for Garnet’s return and their expected engagement, Garnet discovers a love unlike anything she’s experienced before, but with a girl, “a harlot” as Hannah calls her. Garnet must decide the course her life will take, despite her parents’ wishes, despite the prevailing norms.
Available September 2012
Genre: Young Adult
“A sweet, quiet coming-of-age story set in a Prohibition-era lakeside resort.
Middle-class Garnet, 16, has been sent from St. Paul to spend the summer with a distant, wealthy relative to give her shellshocked World War I–veteran father space to heal. She misses him terribly; before the war they went birding together, and he protected her from her mother’s attempts to make her a lady. She has sublimated her love of the outdoors into an uncanny talent to cut the silhouettes of birds, which decorate and inform each chapter. Once in Excelsior, she finds herself bored by ladylike pursuits and both seeks employment with the milliner and falls in love with Isabella, a beautiful girl who performs in the forbidden dance hall. Race relations, class differences and “the love that dare not speak its name” intertwine thoughtfully in this meticulous novel. The Jazz Age resort-town setting and environs are beautifully evoked; the author’s afterword attests to her research. Garnet’s narration reveals a girl on the cusp of modernity, one whose desire for something more and something else feels both alluring and terrifying. A subplot in which Garnet attempts to convince her employer not to use feathers in her hats is consistent but feels superfluous in this otherwise tight and purposeful, if slightly overdetermined, novel.
This slim tale is a positive breath of fresh air in a market bloated with opportunistic dystopian and paranormal romances. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)”
Articles, interviews, and supplementary materials:
“Griffin’s first novel for teens is laced with evocative period details that give readers a taste of what it was like to come of age during the flapper era.” –Publisher’s Weekly
“Garnet’s feminist and environmental concerns are relevant for a young contemporary audience without feeling anachronistic to the narrative.” –Star Tribune
With sensitivity and a spare prose, first-time author Molly Beth Griffin navigates the quiet panic that Loon Baby experiences in the absence of Mama. Anne Hunter’s soft cross-hatched and watercolor paintings shape a serene lake-scape with varied scenes that amplify and illuminate the emotion this book captures.
32 p. • $16.99
“Guaranteed to hit the mark with anyone who’s ever felt lost and alone.” —Kirkus Reviews
“This lovely picture book addresses a child’s fear of abandonment and offers the reassurance of a mother’s love.” —Booklist
“While understated, the story has a sturdy quality that should stand up to repeated read-alouds.”— Publishers Weekly
Available now at your favorite Bookseller
Free curriculum materials coming soon!