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Review of "The Little Tern"

By Brooke Newman and Lisa Mann Dirkes
HiddenSpring Books, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Apr 29th 2003
The Little Tern

The Little Tern is a picture book for young children about a small bird that loses the ability to fly. He has no physical injury, so the cause must be psychological, although the bird does not know what the cause is. He finds his life changes in many ways since he loses the companionship of other terns. He makes friends with a small crab and starts to notice details on the sand that had previously escaped him. He enjoys the company of a small flower on the beach, but the flower does not talk. Eventually, he receives some helpful insight from the crab, and he rediscovers his ability to fly. He moves on with his life, but now he is wiser and understands the world a little better.

The text of the book is written in surprisingly elaborate language for a children's book. It was originally published in Britain, and this may explain the slightly unusual use of words. Thinking about the causes for his inability to fly, the tern says, "I considered that there are things that get broken on the outside, like tails and wings, and things that get broken on the inside, like beliefs and persuasions." When the other terns ask him what is wrong, he says, "Instead of simply telling them the truth ? about which I was wholly uncertain ? I concocted elaborate excuses." As the book proceeds, the tern becomes quite philosophical, talking to a star in the night sky about the nature of being a star, and on the significance of having a shadow. At the end of the book, he realizes that, "A bird needs to see the substance in all things beneath his wings in order to fly about the planet."

The artwork is done in watercolors, and the style fits very well with the reflective and rather melancholy story. Most of the colors are pale and rather washed out, and everything has a rather indistinct shape. It should appeal to children who enjoy subtler forms of beauty.

This is an unusual book then, whose message is the value of patience in the face of life's difficulties and the importance of learning from one's experience. Young children who are capable of grasping relatively sophisticated language could find it helpful, especially if they have reason to identify with the little tern who cannot fly. Note that although this book is published by HiddenSpring books, an imprint of the Paulist Press, there are no explicit religious references in the book.


© 2003 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.

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