Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rainbow Bird

Image source: Amazon
Author: Eric Maddern
Illustrator: Adrienne Kennaway
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Childrens Books
Continent: Australia


What do crocodile tears, starting a fire with sticks and the rainbow have in common? Nothing. Unless you read this aboriginal tale from Northern Australia, and see how neatly they are all intertwined.

The story is set in the Time of Dreams, and is about mean Crocodile Man who had something that no one else did. He had Fire. The other animals in the forest spent their nights in the cold darkness, people ate food that was raw and uncooked, all because they had no Fire, and Crocodile Man would not share it.

The kangaroos and other animals and birds, including our heroine, Bird Woman, plead with him to share, but he only growls back at them, taunting them by playing with Fire, breathing it from his mouth like a dragon, balancing it on his back, holding it in his foot, everything except sharing. Bird Woman watches him quietly from a tree top. She knows this is not a battle she can win with muscle. She bides her time, sitting on a branch, watching, waiting, observing for several days.

At last she gets her chance. One slow moment for Crocodile Man is the victory moment for Bird Woman and she swoops in, snatching the fire stick and flying back up as Crocodile can do nothing but watch in helpless shock. The noble bird that she is, Bird Woman does not not keep Fire for herself. She believes everyone should partake from the warmth and she flies around the forest, spreading it everywhere, putting in the heart of every tree.

Why does she do that? So that even after the tree dies and the wood dries, the spark is still left. That is why when two pieces of dry wood are rubbed together, the spark is ignited and Fire comes alive again.

Bird Woman does not stop there. She carries the fire stick in her tail, and flies around the sky. Her tail and wings change into the brilliant hues of a rainbow. She flies back to Crocodile Man, who now stripped of all his power is nothing more than a croc, and warns him to stay put on the ground. The crocodile is obviously not too pleased, but what could he do? That is why you see him only in the swamps, lamenting his fate, opening and closing his jaw, shedding tears, hoping Fire will come back to him.

Bird Woman on the other hand flies free across the skies, and a lucky person might catch her lighting up the clear sky with shades of rainbow.

The illustrations are rich water color. The orange desert, the yellow flame, the rich green foliage, and of course, the gorgeous hues on the rainbow bird bring this ancient story to life.

I loved the metaphorical imagery throughout the book. On one hand there are the mythological explanations. On the other, I thought of Fire as the spark of life in all of us. Sometimes we have the misfortune of running into a bully like Crocodile Man who deprives us of the fire, leaving us cold and dark. All it takes is a savior or our own free soaring spirit to restore it back right where it belongs. If you asked my four year old though, he'd tell you he loved the power of Crocodile Man, especially since he could play cool tricks with fire. But even he agreed that being mean was unacceptable and sharing was important.

Rainbow Bird is a neat bedtime story, a good way and time to introduce aboriginal mythology to a young kid, right before our own trip to the Time of Dreams.


Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

Brilliant ! Another book goes into my list !

Sunita Venkatachalam said...

Got the goosebumps reading this - lovely lovely book. God I'm so jealous of you guys who can get all these books so easily!

Meera Sriram said...

Lovely! The review and hence the book.I love the color palette and the simple message about sharing and in this case Fire..nice.
Thank you Kodi's mom (for going the extra mile to pick this out for us:)

Praba Ram said...

Thank you for sharing this beautiful, heart-warming aboriginal tale.

To end our CROCUS folktale fiesta with a sharing tale and warmth of fire - (now that the harsh winter is around the corner) - oh, dear, you are the real Rainbow Bird, KM!

Thank you, thank you! Will look for it on amazon. A keepsake indeed for CROCUS 2009! :-)

Choxbox said...

Okay now you guys gotta send all these to us!

Sheela said...

Kodi's Mom, your words were just beautiful! And I can relate to your little one citing the power of the Crocodile Man (don't ask how)... the veiled message may be lost on the kids at first read, but am sure the seed would be there to grow and mature with age...

Gosh! we need a break after the fest to give us all a chance to get these lovely books and experience it before Time sweeps them under our Busy-Life carpets :)

utbtkids said...

KM, crocodile man with fire tricks?Forget 4 ur olds, I am sold:)

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