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KOZO THE SPARROW by Allen Say, HarperCollins/Clarion, October 2023, 40p., ISBN: 978-0-06-324846-5


"Grandmother had lived alone until I came, and I made her unhappy. 

‘Drawing again!' she would say. 'You'll never amount to anything!'

She sounded just like my father, who believed artists were unrespectable.

I was turning twelve. One day Grandmother said, 'I have spoken with your mother. If you study hard and get accepted at Aoyama Middle School, we will let you live alone.'

'What do you mean, Grandmother?' I asked.

'We will rent an apartment for you where you can be a serious student.'

'Are you joking? I'm only twelve years old.'

'I do not jest,' she said.

I stared at Grandmother. She wasn't smiling, but she wasn't scowling, either."

– from Allen Say’s 2011 Sibert Honor book, DRAWING FROM MEMORY


“Who will love a little Sparrow

Who's traveled far and cries for rest?

‘Not I’, said the Oak Tree

‘I won't share my branches with no Sparrow's nest

And my blanket of leaves won't warm her cold breast’

– Simon and Garfunkel (1964)


“The three bad boys were busy.

I always ran when I saw them, but this time,

I wanted to see what they had stolen.

Toad boy had something in his hand…a baby bird.

Was it still alive?

When Toad Boy poked at it, it twitched. Just then I wanted 

the tiny baby more than anything in the world.

‘What are you going to do with it?’ I asked from a distance.

The bullies stared at me. Only the village policeman talked

to them–always to chase them away.

‘What do you care?’ Toad Boy said.

‘What do you want for it?’ I asked.

‘What’ve you got?’”


We learn in KOZO THE SPARROW how eight-year-old Allen Say readily traded all of his cool, little-boy, prized possessions to the trio of bullies in exchange for the tiny baby bird. It must have fallen from a nest. With great patience, doing his best to be a good surrogate mother, Allen succeeds in fostering the baby sparrow. Providing love and attention, the sparrow grows to become his companion and friend. 


In a climactic scene, the bullies confront the boy, clearly seeking to steal back the grown bird. But, in an act of pure parental love, Allen frees the now-flightworthy Kozo. 


I love this metaphorical portrayal of a parent doing their all to love and care for an offspring, and then freeing them to chart their own path. 


Allen Say has won the Caldecott Medal and Caldecott Honor award. His distinctive style, stretching back over four decades, is readily recognizable here. His pencil and watercolor portrayals of the bird are breathtaking. The story of the little boy caring about and caring for the most vulnerable is so heartfelt. There will be plenty of quiet, loving boys for whom this story will resonate. It’s one of those books you want to throw your arms around and squeeze.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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