The Red Bird

The Red Bird – Astrid Lindgren

I stumbled upon this book at our library, and with no more than a glance at it noticed the authors name and brought it home. We loved Pippi Longstocking, so I wanted to read this one too.

What a different book this turned out to be. It’s a short story about two poor children, Matthew and Anna who after the death of their mother end up working for a harsh farmer. They are cold and hungry and ‘cried a great deal when no one was watching’. Describing their days ‘as gray as the mice in the barn’, they will themselves to survive until the winter when they will be able to go to school every day for a few weeks.

When winter finally comes they do attend school, but are disappointed by the cruelty of the other children and nearly freeze on their long hungry walks through the snow. One day however a beautiful red bird appears who leads them to a mysterious place inside a wall where it is spring time.

Anna stretched out her hands towards the bird and wept.

“He’s red,” she said, “oh, he is red!”

Matthew cried too and said,

He does not even know that there are gray mice in the world.”

Called Sunnymead, it is filled with ‘the loveliness of spring’. Matthew and Anna play with other children and are given plenty of good food to eat.

“Then Matthew and Anna followed the other children across the meadow to a little cottage, and there was Mother. You could see that it was Mother, she had a mother’s eyes and a mother’s hands, and her eyes and hands were enough for all the children who crowded around her. She had cooked pancakes for them and she had baked bread”…

Each day after school the red bird leads them there however they always leave in time to get home to milk the cows before they are in trouble with the farmer.

Finally it is the last day of school and the children contemplate their lives without the daily joy of Sunnymead to comfort them and make a decision which will change everything. (Not telling the ending!)

This beautiful story is sad and tender and beautiful. It reminded me of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl. I wasn’t sure at first about reading it to E5 given that it touches some tough subjects, but in the wonderful way of the child she enjoyed the magic of the story and it’s redemptive ending.

It is illustrated by Marit Tornqvist. The pictures evoke the emotions along with the text at each part of the story, particularly with the use of colour….gray’s and browns for their ‘mouse-life’, stark white for the icy winter where the contrast of the red bird is so beautiful and brilliant springy greens for their happy moments in Sunnymead.

I loved this book. I’m not sure it will be my childrens’ favourite, but it has become one of mine.

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