February 16, 2017

My Beautiful Birds

Written and illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 6-10
March 2017

In My Beautiful Birds, author-illustrator Suzanne Del Rizzo offers a poignant story of a Syrian child refugee traumatized by leaving his cherished pigeons behind.  It is a tale of sorrow and suffering and promise, and beautifully rendered in Suzanne Del Rizzo’s distinctive art.

From My Beautiful Birds 
by Suzanne Del Rizzo
Sami is a little boy who delights in caring for his pet pigeons.  When the family must escape their war-torn home and trek endless days to the Za'atari refugee camp, Sami worries for his birds’ safety, though he filled their bowls with food and saw them escape into the skies above. As life unfolds tenuously at the camp, first with shelter and then with the restoration of household routines and school, Sami worries and longs for his birds.
I wish it were like it used to be, just me and my pigeons up on our rooftop with the wind and the boundless sky.   Happy.  Free. (pg. 13)
Even a painting activity that starts out well enough, with Sami painting his “beautiful birds, knowing each wispy feather by heart” (pg. 15)
From My Beautiful Birds
by Suzanne Del Rizzo
becomes a disaster of blackened paint, not unlike the darkness in the sky and worries in the little boy’s heart.
Now, when the smoky nightmares boom, I watch the clouds. Sometimes, fluffy cloud-pigeons take shape.
Sharing the sky.
(pg. 19)
From My Beautiful Birds
by Suzanne Del Rizzo
Everything changes when four birds–a canary, a dove, a rose finch and a pigeon–reach out to Sami, painting “the sky with promise, and the hope of peace.” (pg. 22) The boy in the blue hoodie and yellow boots reaches right back, and finds a way to look to a tomorrow where he can help others.

The sadness and trauma in this little boy’s life is so palpable, from the family’s departure to their adjustment to the refugee camp and to the despondency that permeates Sami’s new life.  Through use of colour and the texture of her art–here polymer clay with acrylics–Suzanne Del Rizzo balances the shadows of war and trauma with the bright colours of youthful exuberance and pastels of hope for a future.  There’s the tumultuous skies and the ordinary days, and the anger of loss with the chirpiness of birds and children at play.  I know the excellence of her art, complex in the depth of detail and its ability to evoke emotions.  But Suzanne Del Rizzo has demonstrated a new depth to her writing.  Perhaps it’s the tragic circumstances of the story but Suzanne Del Rizzo has put heart and hope into her words, giving breath to a staggering situation, suffusing it with some degree of optimism where there is so little.  My Beautiful Birds provides a promise that all the the darkness from that Syrian skyline of smoke is behind Sami and remains open to a bright sky of birds and lightness, the landscape of his future.
From My Beautiful Birds 
by Suzanne Del Rizzo