Reese, Jenn. Every Bird a Prince. James Firnhaber, Illus. Fiction. H. Holt, 05/2022. 304pp. $16.99. 978-1-250-78344-8. ADDITIONAL. GRADES 4-7.
Ever since seventh grade started, Erin, who is white, has felt like she is on a raft rushing down a river. Her friends are pressuring her to crush on boys and gear up for school dances. The only thing that feels right is riding trails in the woods on her bike, which is where she collides with a partially frozen bird. Her successful efforts to revive it result in becoming a champion in the bird kingdom’s battle against the Frostfangs, whose invidious whispers sow self-doubt. The battle becomes more personal when the Frostfangs target her mom, and Erin’s diverse friends are drawn into the fight. Like Reese’s award-winning A Game of Fox & Squirrels (2020) the fanciful allegory, filled with talking animals, has a dark core. But unlike the previous book, the menace—in this case of self-doubt and cisgender, conformist pressures—never fires the imagination and trods a predictable and didactic path. While much of the content is spot-on, the delivery falls flat. It is hard for readers to believe Frostfangs would primarily target wild animals, and bands of icy, insecure deer don’t really seem particularly menacing. The eponymous concept: that every bird is a prince—and wanting that elite title to be read as both gender neutral and an effective means of engendering self-esteem, feels unconvincing.
Melissa McAvoy, Retired