Birdsong: Julie Flett's 2020 BGHB Picture Book Honor Speech

I am so very grateful to everyone who is a part of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards. Kinanâskomitin, Roger Sutton. Kamâciwisimow, committee members Julie Danielson, Leo Landry, and Sujei Lugo. And a big, warm congratulations to Matthew Forsythe and Oge Mora — I am humbled to have received recognition alongside the two of you.

I’m so glad to be able to share this celebration of friendship with kids. Birdsong is inspired by people in my life. I used to take long walks in the neighborhood I lived in, and I’d stop at this one house that looked almost like a cabin, with big trees in an ungroomed but beautiful yard. In the spring, the yard was covered in snowdrops, and one day a woman came out onto the front balcony. I said, “I love the snowdrops,” and she said, “I know.”

She’d seen me over the past few weeks. We had a chat and slowly got to know each other. I learned that she was a ceramics artist. About a year before I moved away from that neighborhood, she dropped a little bag of snowdrop bulbs on my doorstep — no note, just the snowdrops. I kept them for a while in my studio before planting them.

That story kept coming up for me, and I knew that I wanted to create a story for children about the connections we have with the people in our communities. After I lost my mom, I also found myself thinking about the snowdrops. They got me through the loss, along with other things: traditional teachings, a kind neighbor, plants in the spring, drawing, my son, and birdsong.

I still have the drawing my son made for my mom before she passed. It’s what kids do; they bring their most tender hearts. It’s still hard for me to look at the drawing, but after writing Birdsong, less hard than it was. Once I felt I could share some of these things in a gentle way with kids, everything coalesced, including some of my own childhood experiences, and now my son’s — of family and extended family coming together to care for one another, and to support those going through loss and transitions.

[Read Horn Book reviews of the 2020 BGHB Picture Book winners.]

I’m always surprised by what children take away from this book. It’s often something that I hadn’t expected, and I find that one of the most interesting and rewarding parts of sharing stories.

From the January/February 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more on the 2020 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB20. Read more from The Horn Book by and about Julie Flett.

Julie Flett

Julie Flett is the author-illustrator of the 2020 Boston Globe–Horn Book Picture Book Honor book Birdsong.

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