When her country's leader declares 'war' on the sparrows that are eating up all the farmers' grain, Ming-Li is terrified for all birds, not just the sparrows. When she expresses this concern to her brother and father, they inform her she is just a girl - not a farmer - what does she know?
The next day, gongs, crashing cymbals and firecrackers begin exploding like gunshots, terrifying the birds. Ming-Li is horrified. She runs home to check on her pigeon, who is missing from his cage... and who appears suddenly on the rooftop, only to drop to the rooftiles - dead.
That is when birds start raining from the sky.
Devastated, Ming-Li can do little about this terrible bird war. She and her brother rescue as many fallen birds as they can - and in the end, she finds seven birds alive, and sets them free in the village barn to wait out the war.
Of course, once the 'war' is over and the skies over China are empty, new problems plague the farmers' crops - locusts and worms and other goodies so delectable to the common sparrow. Ming-Li knows this. Can her seven birds save the farmers' crops?
This gorgeous, dreamy, fable-like story is actually based on a true event in China's history, when, over three days and under the direction of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, the people of China decimated the country's sparrow population in just three days - leading to a locust plague and subsequent famine that killed almost 40 million Chinese.
Strikingly beautiful illustrations by Tanaka (this is her first picture book) are an eyefest for the soul, and the Japanese artistic influence is easy to see.
Historical, emotional, beautiful.
Title: Sparrow Girl
Author: Sara Pennypacker
Illustrator: Yoko Tanaka
Publisher: Hyperion, $24.99 RRP
Publication Date: February 2009
Format: Hard cover with dust jacket
For ages: 5 - 10
Type: Picture Book, Historical Fiction