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O Huigin, Sean
Illustrated by Tim Dixon Windsor (Ont.), Black Moss Press, 1991. 36pp, paper, $4.95, ISBN 0-88753-168-7. Distributed by Firefly Books. CIP

Kindergarten to Grade 3/Ages 5 to 8

Reviewed by Theo Hersh

Volume 20 Number 5
1992 October

Sean O Huigin, Canada's own bard, has created a lilting and lyrical retelling of an ancient legend. The story has many names and versions ("King Wren," "The Sparrow and the Eagle," etc.), but O Huigin has settled on an Irish version and set the story firmly on the Emerald Isle, his second home.

The giant Binny's father is asked to decide who is king of the birds. He chooses a contest:

the bird that flew
up further than any
deserved to be king
said the father of Binny

All the birds start from the ground and fly up to the sky. They drop out one by one until the eagle remains. As he begins to descend, the wren flies out of the eagle's feathers and flaps higher in the sky.

The other birds are angry at the wren's deception and do not accept him as their king. They squabble and call on Binny's father to mediate again. The wren must be king, but in name only; the eagle should become the real ruler of the birds, says the father of Binny.

O Huigin is a wordsmith, and a playful one he is. By setting his words in small lines, he hides the poem's true classic ballad form. In true O Huigin style, he uses no punctuation.

The magic of his verse wins out, however. King of the Birds is enjoyable simply as sound, but O Huigin is a good story-teller too. There is a satisfying roundness to the poem as the narrator introduces and ends the story with reference to his conversation with the giant Binny himself.

Though the cover is very attractive, the realistic depictions of the birds accompanying the retelling lack the ingenuity and playfulness of the words.

King of the Birds will make a fine addition to mythology and legend collections for elementary school and public libraries.

Theo Hersh is a children's librarian with the Toronto Public Library in Toronto, Ontario

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