Here are the occasional reflections of a joyful traveller along the strange pathways of fantasy and adventure. All my reviews are independent and unsolicited. Here you will find only enthusiastic recommendations, never negative reviews. If I read a book which I feel is less than wonderful (which happens far more often than not) then I simply don't write about it. This blog is, rather, a celebration of the most exciting books I stumble across on my meandering reading journey, and of the important, life-affirming experiences they offer. It is but a very small thank you for the wonderful gifts their writers give.

Sunday, 26 June 2022

Birdsong by Katya Balen



‘Together the bird and I make a symphony.’  (p 88)

Simply a favourite

Katya Balen is one of my absolute favourite contemporary writers for young people.

That her first book, October, October has recently won both the Yoto Carnegie Medal and Yoto Carnegie Shadowers’ Award is testament that she is many other people’s too. She will be for countless others yet. She is a writer who shows us The Light in Everything.

Her latest title Birdsong has been written for publisher Barrington Stoke, who do such a brilliant and important job in making available quality writing by fine authors that is accessible to less confident readers. Birdsong fits this brief perfectly and so is necessarily a comparatively short book, simply written.

Simply good

But sometimes simple is good. This is one of them. Sometimes deep emotions are best expressed simply. This is one of them. Short in length and simple in language does not always imply lack of depth, potency or poignancy. And it certainly doesn’t here. Sometimes human truths are best expressed simply. 

Katya Balen turns perfection into simplicity. And simplicity into perfection. She can grab your heart and wrench it with a nine word sentence. Even when that sentence is about no more  (and no less) than saying thank you to a bathroom. It makes perfect sense in context. Perfect simple sense. Because this author can float words like the notes of a ravishing Puccini aria. Or a blackbird’s song.

Simply true

What she captures in her simple story are simple truths. True characters. True emotions. The truth of loss. Of anger and pain. The truth of simple, uncomplicated giving and sharing. The truth of music and of nature.

Richard Johnson’s illustrations are an ideal match, nowhere better exemplified than in the simple, subtle near-silhouette of his cover image. 

Birdsong sings in our car crash world and finds the healing, the hope of nature. It finds music in a small patch of wilderness that can once again become the whole wold, if we will only let it.

Katya Belen is one of my absolute favourite contemporary writers for young people.



(Also seek out Richard Johnson’s picture book Once upon a Snowstorm which shows, if anyone needed showing, that  you don’t need words at all to be truly magical either.)