"A Wee Bird Was Watching", written by Karine Polwart and illustrated by Kate Leiper is a lovely book for young people. There was a time when I've had tried it out on my grandson, but as an eight-year-old he's now moved on to, and beyond, Harry Potter. Having said that, the story you find between the covers has much more depth than you might expect given what I imagine to be the age of its intended audience. At one level it reads like a traditional folk tale. As the publisher's blurb says: "A young girl and her mother settle in the woods for a night's sleep, after a long and tiring journey. But danger is never far away. Who will keep them from harm? A wee bird is watching from the trees. And he knows just what to do."
At another level it's a book that has real resonance in the modern era. The book says that "all this happened long ago", yet the characters are depicted wearing threadbare and repaired clothes that could have come from the 1930s, or much more recently. It's impossible to read the book, and in particular to look at the illustrations, without wondering why the mother and daughter are on such a long journey, on foot. What had happened to turn them into refugees? We will never know, but you don't have to look far to realise there are many, many people in their position in the world we live in today.
The success of a highly illustrated story book will always depend on the balance between the words and the pictures. Both are outstanding. There is a sense in which when an author doesn't have many words to play with, every one of them has to count: every one of them has to be measured and judged, and deliver exactly the right effect. The storytelling in the book is economical, but highly effective. The words are set within the full-page illustrations that do so much to bring them to life. As I've said above, the illustrations also provide the subtext and add depth to the story. A great wee book!