Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Calvin Can't Fly

Under normal circumstances one of my greatest pleasures at this time of year is spotting the return of migrating swifts. Around the end of April I start scanning the skies for wheeling black specks in the distance above. Sometimes you hear them before you see them; a distant shrieking call echoing above your head. I'm no birder but nothing seems to express joy and freedom and SUMMER more clearly to me than those little v shapes swooping in figures of eight in the blue.

This year of course There Is No Blue, and it wasn't until Saturday that the cloud cover lifted for long enough for me to find one. First swift 2012 obligingly flew past the skylight as I was reclining in the bath. Normally by mid- May they've started to gather in numbers and are easy spotting. They must be up there somewhere now, I just can't see them through the gloom. Poor things, it's a pretty shivery welcome after their long, long journey. I feel like catapulting tiny mufflers and thermoses of hot cocoa up into the air for them.

Reading 'Calvin Can't Fly; the story of a bookworm birdie' by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Keith Bendis will have to sustain me for now. I should immediately add that Calvin is a starling not a swift but it was a nice library find this week and provides a useful insight into the problems of migrating in stormy weather for the athletically challenged bird. As the youngest in our household shares more than a few features with the hero it's also a book well designed for Eddie pleasure, and pleasure it has given him.

Whilst Calvin's sixty-seven thousand four hundred and thirty-two cousins are busy discovering all the things young birds are supposed to, like grass, worms and how to fly, Calvin discovers books and there's no removing him from them. Even the insults thrown at him by his cousins 'nerdy birdie', 'geeky beaky' and 'bookworm' can't separate him from his passion to absorb all the printed matter he can lay his wings on.
When the time comes to fly south Calvin appears stuck; he still cannot fly but his family members put insults aside and unite to tow him along on a home made harness.
Their support is more than repaid when Calvin's book-learnin' leads him to identify the danger of an approaching hurricane and lead the flock to the safety of shelter.

The message of the value of difference within a community and the importance of valuing all members' contributions is not a new one and neither is the message that reading and books are important (there are a lot of books about the value of libraries to be found in libraries I've discovered; in much the same way as radio disc jockey's love to play tracks which reference how great they are). 'Calvin Can't Fly' is wittier and punchier than most though and the text is well served by Keith Bendis's lovely characterisations; he draws a great expressive starling eye. For Eddie and his mother the book is a nice reminder that even bookworms get there in the end: Calvin does learn to fly. Eddie is off on his first ever 'proper' play date this afternoon with his most recent discovery- a friend. Eventually he may even learn to kick a ball. I'm not holding my breath though- I'm still waiting to learn that one.

The other great thing about this book is that it gives me an excuse to link to a film of a murmuration of starlings. Sustaining whilst we wait for the swifts. And write the word 'murmuration' which is the best word.

'Calvin Can't Fly' by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Keith Bendis, pub. Sterling, isbn 978-1-4027-7323-5

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