The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow | SLJ Review

Gr 3-6 –Thornhill returns to questions on adaptation, conservation, and extinction, all raised in her 2016 award-winning title The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk, but here posed in a different light—one of triumph.
redstarTHORNHILL, Jan. The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow. illus. by Jan Thornhill. 44p. bibliog. diag. glossary. maps. Groundwood. Apr. 2018. Tr ISBN 9781773060064.

Gr 3-6 –Thornhill returns to questions on adaptation, conservation, and extinction, all raised in her 2016 award-winning title The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk, but here posed in a different light—one of triumph. The narrative pieces together the House Sparrow’s long history, from around 12,000 years ago to the present day, to better understand how a creature so reviled still managed to adapt and survive in great numbers. Thornhill’s precision in describing how the petite bird could be ruthlessly exterminated by people and, at the same time, be adored by them, her careful prodding of the dissonance between these two realities, is truly absorbing. What emerges is a complex, dark comedy of human behavior and a tenacious avian species, one with very real—and, as Thornhill argues, often ignored—consequences. Regarding their decline in North America, Thornhill asks: “What if the culprit is something that is as unhealthy for humans as it is for the House Sparrow?” The message is subtle but clear: our fates are intertwined. Thornhill’s masterly digital art invites repeated viewing. There is death (and a bit of gore) as well as quiet, almost tender scenes, such as a small flock eating alongside cows on a train. The palette of rich greens, reds, and browns affirm the theme of vitality—and a story not yet finished. VERDICT An exceptional selection for nonfiction collections; use it to deepen discussions on the relationship among humans, animals, and the environment.–Della Farrell, School Library Journal

This review was published in the School Library Journal March 2018 issue.

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