Saturday 23 July 2022


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The Bird Within Me by Sara Lundberg  {Reviewed by STELLA}
If you are a lover of illustration and wonderful children’s books, this should be in your collection. The Bird Within Me, from the excellent children’s book publisher Book Island, is a beautiful story — tender and thoughtful. Based on the life of Swedish artist Berta Hansson, it recalls her childhood growing up in a rural village, her love of nature, and her dream to be an artist. Berta feels different from her sisters, from others in the village (apart from her uncle, who she sees as a magician — others call him 'the theatrical farmer') and dreams of escape. “Well, if I was a bird, I could fly off. Away from our village. To something else. To a place where I could be myself. Where no one calls for me all the time or thinks I am ridiculous.” As we get to know Berta, Sara Lundberg's illustrations take us between reality and dream. Sometimes we are confronted with the rigours of school and family portrayed in detailed drawings or collaged paintings, while on the next spread we may be taken away into Berta’s world of trees, birds shaped out of blue clay, and internal perspectives beautifully expressed in a quiet and evocative style. 1920s farming life was hard, and harder still for Berta and her siblings with their mother suffering from tuberculosis. This disease lies under the fragile heart of Berta’s childhood. It causes suffering, fear and grief, and is a constant interloper in the family’s life. For Berta, her relationship with her mother is tender and sad — yet it is her mother’s appreciation of the small sculptures by her side and the drawings that hug her walls that keep this young girl’s talent alive. There are pivotal moments that change Berta’s fate of working on the farm and becoming a housewife: the doctor who recognises her talent; her uncle and his own paintings in the room that to Berta smells safe; and the pot of food deliberately left to burn — a small defiance, one which makes her father recognise the need to allow Berta to spread her wings. Or. at least, continue her education. Sara Lundberg has drawn on the paintings, letters and diaries of the artist to articulate this loving portrait of a twelve-year-old on the cusp of life and the passion for art that will shape her life. A tender and exquisitely illustrated book about following your dreams. 

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