In what remains the greatest definition of love, Tom Stoppard described the real thing as “knowledge of each other, not of the flesh but through the flesh, knowledge of self, the real him, the real her, in extremis, the mask slipped from the face.” And yet the grandest paradox of love — the source of its necessary frustration, the root of the inescapable lover’s sulk — is our insistence on crafting and putting on ever more elaborate masks under the mistaken belief that these idealized selves, presented to the object of our infatuation, would render us more desirable and worthier of love. We tuck our messy real selves behind polished veneers, orchestrate grand gestures, and perform various psychoemotional acrobatics driven by the illusion that love is something we must earn by what we do, rather than something that comes to us unbidden simply for who we are.
The deconditioning of that dangerous delusion is what French children’s book author Ingrid Chabbert and Spanish artist Guridi explore with imaginative subtlety in The Day I Became a Bird (public library).
The protagonist of this minimalist, maximally expressive story is a tenderhearted little boy who falls in love for the first time the day he starts school.
The day he starts school, a young boy falls in love for the very first time. Sylvia sits in front of him at school, and he’s so in love with her, she’s all he can see. But sadly, Sylvia doesn’t see him. In fact, it seems the only thing Sylvia has eyes for is birds. ?There are birds on her pants and dresses. She wears bird barrettes in her hair. She draws birds on her notebooks and folders. And when she speaks, her voice sounds like birdsong.? So in a bold attempt to get Sylvia’s attention, the boy decides to go to school dressed up as a bird. He endures the stares and giggles of his classmates, and a great deal of discomfort, but the boy doesn’t care. Because when it comes to love, sometimes you have no choice but to follow your heart and spread your wings. In this sweetly funny picture book, Ingrid Chabbert perfectly captures the emotional essence of a child’s first love. The boy’s voice as narrator is realistic and endearing as he engagingly and honestly shares the wonder of his experience. With imagination and gentle humor, Guridi uses spare lines in mostly black and white drawings to tenderly express the poignant heart of the story. This book offers a terrific exploration of young children’s self-discovery and self-expression, as well as the early development of social skills. It makes a wonderful read-aloud to launch a classroom discussion about relationships and feelings.