Tag Archives: fairytale

The Bird Atlas – a review

The Bird Atlas by Anna McKerrow is a beautiful fairytale. It’s a fairly small book but I spent about a week reading it because I wanted to live with it, and because it is so rich that I didn’t want to take it in too quickly. 

Wren is a spirit girl, from a long line of Bird Fliers. Her people carry the souls of the dead to the afterlife. Wren lives in a gothic house on the edge of our world – it’s just her and her grandmother and the girl is lonely, and frustrated. And so the tale begins, and we learn more of who Wren is as her journey takes her through time and to different places. In losing herself, Wren finds out who she really is.

I found this to be a really emotional read – there’s nothing graphic, but the story deals with bereavement and grief. I found it deeply affecting. There are also themes of forgiveness, self-forgiveness, working out how to move on – there’s a lot of life lessons here. It’s a book that could well turn out to be healing for anyone dealing with grief and loss.

This is a book that could be shared with a younger reader – it’s quite wordy, and given the emotional content probably isn’t suitable for the very small ones. I know I would have really appreciated it as a child- I struggled a lot with the concept of death and would have found this story comforting and helpful from an early age. If you’re not sure whether it would be helpful to a young person in your life, read it first.

For the grownups out there whose inner child craves fairy stories, this is a lovely read. It’s rich with ideas and enchantment, and is a warm hearted, emotionally reassuring sort of book. I thought it was lovely and very much recommend it.

Grasshopper stories

There’s a classic capitalist fairytale about how the grasshopper sings all summer, and dies of hunger in the late autumn, while the busy little ant saves up a store and is able to survive. We are to be busy little ants. It’s a fairytale that could use a little debunking.

Let’s start with the practical bits: Grasshoppers lay eggs, and the eggs survive the winter to hatch when temperatures rise. An adult grasshopper lives 51 days, give or take. Ants lay eggs that turn into larvae and pupate before becoming adult ants, and eggs are laid for a colony by the queen rather than by individuals as with grasshoppers. Queens can, according to Wikipedia, live for up to 30 years, workers from 1-3 years. Every creature out there has its own lifecycle and relationship with the seasons. These are strategies evolved over vast stretches of time. If all creatures tried to occupy the same niche, many would be less effective. For lots of insects, the adult is active in summer and dies when the seasons turn. It’s not about a work ethic, it’s about your species and what it does.

The moral we are encouraged to take from the story is to be afraid of the coming winter, and to work hard to prepare for it rather than wasting our time lounging about in the sun and doing something as pointless as singing. It is precisely this set of fears that keep us overworking, overproducing, and making unsustainable piles of detritus that we somehow convince ourselves are going to keep us safe.

Grasshoppers have a life expectancy you can measure in days, once they hatch. Ants may live for a couple of years. Humans get a number of decades, apart from those of us who don’t. Money may buy us a year or two at the end. Money invested carefully in living well throughout our lives will buy a few more years than that. In the end, no matter what we do, we die.

People are not grasshoppers, and we aren’t ants. We do need to provision ourselves a bit for the future, in most parts of the world. We do also need to sit in the sun and sing our songs once in a while, and this is just as important. A life spent trying to ward off the worst things that can happen is a life that may not have much actual life in it.