Quill and Quire

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Old Bird

by Irene Morck, Muriel Wood, illus.

Irene Morck’s new book, her seventh for children, strikes out against the ignominy of being put out to pasture. Too small and old to pull a plough, Bird is a horse charged with the task of carrying two young brothers to school each day. When she starts to rebel against her limited role by bucking her passengers and breaking into the cow barn, the boys’ father decides she’ll have to be sold. In desperation, the boys convince their father to give Bird a chance on the plough, whereupon she shows her strength on the field and secures a happy ending for the tale.

The story is based on the author’s father’s experience as a boy growing up on a homestead in Alberta. Morck, who now lives near that homestead, communicates a love for the place and that particular memory in her writing. Her style is graceful in its economy and apparent simplicity; because there’s no clutter, the experiences of the characters shine through.

If the text seems transparent, then the book’s illustrations are gloriously translucent. The paintings by Muriel Wood, a former instructor at the Ontario College of Art and Design, are extravagant in their light effects, giving the impression of sun shining through mist. The scenes are composed like photographs, with several close-ups of the boys’ angelic faces beaming out of the page. This is a sticking point, as I doubt that children want to admire other children’s faces in books. I would have preferred to see more horse and less cherub, but otherwise enjoyed this tender and humorous reminder that no one appreciates being out of harness before her time.