Jul 28, 2014

Days of the Blackbird

by Tomie de Paola

I will tell you about this book starting with the end: the author's explanation. De Paola relates how he once dined in a restaurant in northern Italy on a very cold day at the end of January. The proprietor told him that in the area of Italy he was from, the last three days of January, coldest of all the year, were known as the Days of the Blackbird because "it gets so cold that the white doves hide in the chimney tops to stay warm. And when they come out, they are black from the soot." Inspired by the imagery, de Paola wrote this fable-like tale about a young girl and her father, Duca Gennaro.

They both enjoy the songs of birds in their courtyard garden all summer, and wait through winter for the birds to return in spring. One year Gennaro falls ill, and his daughter worries that he will not survive the winter without the hope the birdsong gives him. She begs the birds to stay, giving them food and shelter. But as the days get colder and colder, more birds leave for the south. Only one remains, her favorite white dove. In the dead of winter the bird sits in a chimney top to keep warm at night, only coming out to eat and sing at the window. On the third day the bird has turned black from the soot and is renamed La Merla. When spring finally comes, Gennaro has recovered and La Merla gladly welcomes back the other birds. In this story the bird remains black for ever after.

It's a beautiful tale, enriched with depictions of a bygone era in Italy (or so I imagine, the time period of the story is not exactly specified) with dress styles, the architecture of the homes, cultural holidays and more. The narrative is a bit sophisticated for my three-year-old, so I paraphrase a little when reading to her, she still likes the story with its pretty birds and the devotion of a girl to her father.

There's another version of the blackbird fable shared on one of the blogs linked to below.

Rating: 4/5     32 pages, 1997

more opinions:
loving every leaf
Our Little Library
Biery's Book Blog

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