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The Night of the Go-Away Birds

| April 11, 2017 | 0 Comments

Title: The Night of the Go-Away Birds
Author: Bridget Pitt
Published by: Pearson Marang
ISBN: 9780636200517
Reviewed by: Fiona de Villiers

The Night of the Go-Away Birds was a Maskew Miller Longman Literature Award winner in 2015. Its accomplished author, Bridget Pitt (her writing experience includes newspapers, educational material, school textbooks, poetry and fiction) was inspired to write this particular fantasy by work with rangers in the Imfolozi Game Reserve. The rangers were busy trying to protect rhino from poachers. Most South Africans are aware of the scourge of poaching and Pitt has found a way to get the youngest of our population to join the movement to save the rhino. She’s also inspiring the very young to read.

There’s no better way to get young children hooked on books than through a fantasy that has real-life implications. In The Night of the Go-Away Birds, the central character is a little girl named Honesty Chapita. When we first meet her, she’s miserable. She lives with her mother and two little brothers in the big city. Her father, a member of the antipoaching unit in Imfolozi Game Reserve, has been badly wounded in a gun battle with poachers. Honesty learns a new word by eavesdropping on her mother’s hushed conversation with her aunt: coma. She’s aching to see her father, but, says her mother, “We don’t have money to go, it’s too far – it’s in Empangeni. And I can’t get leave from work.”

The only comfort for the little girl is a beaded rhino toy, given to her by her father. She keeps this talisman so close to her that one night something astonishing happens. It comes to life. As Honesty and her rhino companion set out to find her father and save him (here children can learn that all good fantasy reads deal with a quest of some kind), she meets a range of other creatures. There are heart-stopping moments as she tries to explain to the animals of the wild what a hospital is and they all puzzle over how to get to the one where her father lies.

The Go-away birds of the titles come into their own at this point. Teachers could pause to explain exactly what they are (all the animals in the story deserve closer scrutiny if teachers are prepared to delve into cross-curricular instruction), for they are real. Says zoologist, media consultant, cryptozoologists and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker:

They earn their onomatopoeic name from the sound of their extremely loud, oft-repeated cry, which does sound rather like “g-away!”” Acting very much as self-appointed wildlife sentinels, go-away birds (unusually plain-plumaged relatives of the typically gaudy touracos) perch high up in tree tops, well out of danger themselves, and then proceed via their raucous alarm cries to warn any unsuspecting antelope or any other prey animal in the vicinity of approaching threats, such as human hunters, lions, cheetahs, and other predators.1 The raucous birds play their part, screeching and scratching at the hospital window.

Inside is Honesty, looking at her father hooked up to life support equipment, willing him to hear the noise and wake up. Before Honesty can claim that her journey was a success, she’s back in the real world. That the story has a happy ending is re-assuring for very young readers. But that should not deter teachers from talking, in appropriate ways, about faith and hope, family and unexpected tragedy. 

Reference: 1. See: what.html. Bridget Pitt


Category: Autumn 2017, Book Reviews

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