The feels we get from picture books are all over the map. We love big laughs, we love being inspired, we love to feel good and we love being moved. We even love being sad sometimes. Because sadness in a picture book is virtually always accompanied with a certain joy.
Old Pearl by Wendy Wahman is not a sad book. Not by any stretch of the imagination. There are moments that are sad, but it is a beautiful book full of joy and caring and love. It is a touching and moving joy.
Theo is a kind and gentle young boy with a heart that is most certainly pure gold. He likes to feed the birds in the park. When he does, he tries to make sure some of the seeds land close to the bird with the raggedy wing. Alas, the other birds are always quicker and get all the seeds first. Because Theo feeds the book on a regular basis, the birds are used to him and one day he makes his way through the birds to the bird with raggedy wing and makes sure she gets her share of seeds. A loose dog scatters the flock and Theo realizes this bird can’t fly and picks her up and saves her.
He takes the bird home where he lives with his grandmother who insists that he can’t bring the bird inside. Theo explains that the bird can’t fly, was nearly gotten by a dog, and he has named her Pearl. Which, coincidentally, his grandmother’s name.
After they take the bird to the vet and discover that, other than her bum wing, she is healthy, just old. On the way to return Pearl to the park, as Theo protests, his grandmother has a change of heart. She drives past the park and stops at a pet supply store.
Theo loves having Old Pearl (the bird) living with them. He sets her up with everything a rescued bird could want. They spend their days together going for walks, having meals, reading. Old Pearl is one happy bird.
But Pearl is old and eventually one morning she doesn’t wake up. This crushes Theo.
Like any sadness we suffer, we eventually find a way to work through it, around it, past it. We find ways to change that sadness into something that gives us relief. Theo is a strong and kind boy and he finds a way, too.
Wahman’s art is just lovely. If your familiar with her previous work you’ll recognize this as a new look for her. The softness of the charcoal line, the subtlety of the watercolor palette, all collaged digitally. Her characters are sweet and engaging and you can’t help but feel an attachment to them.
There is a welcome note at the back of the book with good advice should you you find an injured animal.
Wendy Wahman has created a beautiful journey sharing the real consequences with us.