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Crane Boy

Judy Reads Books

Just finished my first draft of my review of the spectacular Crane Boy, on my list of 150 Best Children's Books of 2015. (Note the star — it’s one of my top 50 choices this year.) I am blown away by this book… I can't wait to introduce the book to all my audiences this year.

In October, Kinga, a young boy from a small village in in the Phobjika Valley of Bhutan, wants to be the first to see the black-necked cranes return for the winter. One day, while sitting in his classroom, he hears the loud squawking calls of the birds his people call “trung trung.”

The children rush to the window to see the cranes flying past and circling the monastery’s golden roof. The class visits the crane center to learn about the birds from Kado, an elderly man with a long white beard, whom they call “Caretaker of the Cranes.” Only 203 cranes have come back this year, and though the wetlands where they live have been preserved, Kado tells the children “ . . . we need to find more ways to help them, for they are our sisters and brothers.”

At dinner, Kinga and his family discuss the attributes of the cranes. They bring good luck for the crops, Grandmother says, and Mother adds, “We believe they bring strength to those who love archery.” While at an archery contest with his father, Kinga gets an idea for helping the cranes: what if they hold a Crane Festival in the monastery courtyard where they can perform both traditional and new crane dances for visitors? He and his classmates observe the way the cranes stand on one leg, jump up and down, and flap their wings, after which the children create their own dance to perform in crane costumes at the festival.

Extraordinarily appealing, vibrantly colored watercolors radiate from each page, introducing a place that few of us know anything about, made memorable through Kinga’s eloquent first-person narration.

How many other picture books set in Bhutan are in print? Exactly two, both from obscure publishers. Not only is this a charming tale, beautifully told and exquisitely illustrated, it introduces all of us to a fascinating country and culture through the eyes of a child. There is excellent back matter, including many color photos; information on the Crane Festival (“the first and only festival in Bhutan dedicated to environmental education”), held every year at the Gangtey Monastery; background on Bhutan; facts about the cranes; and a description from the author and illustrator about how they visited Bhutan to do their research for the story.

Of course, you’ll want to locate the country on a globe; you’ll also find many short videos on YouTube.com that show the people and the lush countryside. Most exciting, though, is this recent video of the children’s dance at the Crane Festival: www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSLnHH1fog4. Studying endangered animals and asking students what they can do to help? Kinga’s story may inspire them to think globally, act locally. —Judy Freeman, children’s literature consultant and author of The Handbook for Storytelling and The Winners! Handbook
- Judy Freeman, August 16, 2015  Visit Website

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