The Strange Birds of Flannery O'Connor

by Amy Alznauer (Author) Ping Zhu (Illustrator)

The Strange Birds of Flannery O'Connor
Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

"I intend to stand firm and let the peacocks multiply, for I am sure that, in the end, the last word will be theirs." -Flannery O'Connor

When she was young, the writer Flannery O'Connor was captivated by the chickens in her yard. She would watch their wings flap, their beaks peck, and their eyes glint. At age six, her life was forever changed when she and a chicken she had been training to walk forwards and backwards were featured in the local news, and she realized that people want to see what is odd and strange in life. But while she loved birds of all varieties and kept several species around the house, it was the peacocks that came to dominate her life.

Written by Amy Alznauer with devotional attention to all things odd and illustrated in radiant paint by Ping Zhu, The Strange Birds of Flannery O'Connor explores the beginnings of one author's lifelong obsession.

Amy Alznauer lives in Chicago with her husband, two children, a dog, a parakeet, sometimes chicks, and a part-time fish, but, as of today, no elephants or peacocks.

Ping Zhu is a freelance illustrator who has worked with clients big and small, won some awards based on the work she did for aforementioned clients, attracted new clients with shiny awards, and is hoping to maintain her livelihood in Brooklyn by repeating that cycle.


Publishers Weekly

Alznauer treats writer Flannery O'Connor's life with exceptional delicacy and depth of feeling. Regularly chastised by her mother, the girl devotes herself to her chickens, gaining brief fame by training one to walk backward. "There was something about strangeness that made people sit up and look," she discovers. As an adult, O'Connor is diagnosed with lupus, and her fame as a writer who "wanted to wake readers up like a rooster crowing" grows as her health deteriorates. At last, living at home with her mother, she fills her yard with peacocks, whose unearthly beauty--like "a thousand haloed suns"--intoxicates her. Using bold swaths of color, Zhu often shows O'Connor from far off, visualizing her isolation; the birds, by contrast, sit front and center, their plumage crisp and colorful. Alznauer understands her subject's instinctive attentiveness to the beauty of anything that doesn't fit in: "She felt her heart filling up with grief but even more with wonder. How strange to find something so large and beautiful rushing in with all that sadness." Ages 4-8. (June)

Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Gr 2-5--This colorful book describes Flannery O'Connor's relatively short life (1925-1964) with large, sometimes abstract artwork. The illustrations take up the majority of each page and provide visual details to the text. The Southern Gothic author's life is traced from childhood to her death. Alznauer captures O'Connor's experiences on her farm, moving, losing her father, attending school, and returning back home to Georgia to live on the family farm. O'Connor's own writing appears throughout the pages. For a reader without much background knowledge on O'Connor, the flow of the narrative may seem detached and difficult to follow. An author's note includes photographs and illustrations from O'Connor's archives, as well as biographical notes and additional resources. VERDICT This title would best serve libraries that already have a variety of bibliographic titles for young readers and patrons who have curricular interests in the humanities.--Samantha Hull, Ephrata High School, PA

Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Like O'Connor, this gangly art object of a book tracing her first forays as a writer to an outsize fascination with the chickens in her childhood backyard is a "strange bird," in the most wondrous of ways. "There was something about strangeness," a young O'Connor realized after her trained bantam drew fame, "that made people sit up and look." Alznauer pairs a grounded, authentic vernacular with a lyricism that takes flight, while Zhu's depiction of odd human proportions against brilliant brushstroke plumage stuns. —The New York Times
Amy Alznauer
Amy Alznauer lives in Chicago with her husband, two children, a dog, a parakeet, sometimes chicks, and a part-time fish, but, as of today, no elephants or peacocks. Check back.
Her writing has won the Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction, the Christopher Award, and the SCBWI-Illinois Laura Crawford Memorial Mentorship, and her essays and poetry have appeared in collections and literary journals including The Bellingham Review, Creative Nonfiction and River Teeth.
She has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh. She teaches calculus and number theory classes at Northwestern University. She is the managing editor for the SCBWI-IL Prairie Wind. And she is the writer-in-residence at St. Gregory the Great, where she has a little office in a big building with a bad internet connection, so she actually gets some work done (in theory).
Ping Zhu is a freelance illustrator who has worked with clients big and small, won some awards based on the work she did for aforementioned clients, attracted new clients with shiny awards, and is hoping to maintain her livelihood in Brooklyn by repeating that cycle.
Classification
Nonfiction
ISBN-13
9781592702954
Lexile Measure
-
Guided Reading Level
0
Publication date
June 20, 2020
Series
-

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