Sara Lundberg’s The Bird in Me Flies

h1 March 24th, 2020 by jules

“What do things look like? Really? I often think about that.”
(Click spread to enlarge)


I’ve a few spreads today from an illustrated novel, originally published in Swedish in 2017. Sara Lundberg’s The Bird in Me Flies will be on shelves in May from Groundwood books and has been translated by B. J. Epstein. This lyrical, deeply felt story (which received Sweden’s August Prize, as well as the Snöbollen award) was inspired by the paintings, letters, and diaries of Swedish artist Berta Hansson, who was born in 1910 and died in 1994.

In a spare free verse text, Lundberg tells the story from young Berta’s point of view. When we meet her, she’s doing her best to fold herself into the limbs of a tree: “If I fold into myself, I look like a sleeping bird. Like the one I made from blue clay. I will give it to Mama.” Berta lives on a farm with two older sisters and a younger brother. Her mother is ill, bedridden with tuberculosis. Berta loves solitude, being outdoors, and creating art, and she feels largely misunderstood. Often, she will sit on the floor beside her mother in the room where she rests: “We can’t get too close to her because then we could be infected.” Berta likes to draw there and “imagine that all this — the drawings and the blue clay birds, everything I do with my hands — keeps her alive. Makes her well.”



Eventually, Berta loses her mother, and the story is largely concerned with her desire to feel understood. Her father doesn’t want her to make art, and he envisions a future for her on the farm, cooking and cleaning and taking care of things in a way he thinks all women should do. There are only a small handful of people that Berta feels really understand her (including the family doctor, who collects art), and one of those was her mother. At one point, Berta takes matters into her own hands: “Something snaps.” She makes it clear to her father that a life of domestic work is not for her.

Lundberg tells the story with tenderness, specificity, and a spare eloquence. Readers will feel as if they are right there with Berta, and young artists (or aspiring artists), in particular, may feel a kinship with Berta. At the fabulous blog Picturebook Makers, Lundberg writes: “This is a story about a young girl with the bravery and willingness to take the consequences of living her own truth and following her own path, despite the protests of her father and the society at the time.” You will really want to visit that 2019 post, as there is a lot more art from the book. That is here.

Here’s a bit of art. …


“‘Draw a carrot,’ he says, handing out pieces of paper with outlines on them.
We each get an orange crayon. ‘Try to stay inside the lines.'”

(Click spread to enlarge and read text in its entirety)



(Click second image to see spread in its entirety)


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THE BIRD IN ME FLIES. Copyright © 2017 by Sara Lundberg and Mirando Bok, Stockholm. English translation for Groundwood Books copyright © 2020 by Brett Jocelyn Epstein Woodstein. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Groundwood Books.

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