Wishbird by Gabrielle Wang

The Wishbird

A review by Nalini Haynes

The Wishbird is a gorgeous change of pace, a lovely children’s fantasy with an oriental setting.

Boy was abandoned as a baby then rescued, Tymon and Poomba-style, by two older boys with less heart and more abusive manipulation (‘can we keep him?’). Boy grew up on the streets of Soulless, a city without birds, wildlife or gardens by decree of the ruler. Boy begs and steals to survive.

Oriole lives happily, far away with the bird refugees in a wood until the Wishbird ails. Fearful for the Wishbird’s imminent demise, the other birds beg Oriole to travel to Soulless for a cure.

The birds weave a carpet in which they carry Oriole to Soulless to beg assistance from the king. Upon arriving in Soulless, Oriole is arrested for talking in a musical voice as one would when raised by birds.

Boy tries to help her; from Oriole he learns Soulless used to be Solace before birds and music were banned.

Conflict ensues, revealing corruption in the royal court.

The setting, along with the few line drawings scattered through the book, reveal an oriental setting with upturned eaves, layered architecture and flowing garb.

Protagonists of both genders unashamedly work together. Apart from the birds who could be any gender, there are very few speaking characters in the story, most of whom are male. I’m not sure this is a cause for concern as Oriole is a girl-hero.  Working together, Oriole and Boy are apparently oblivious to any battle of the sexes.

The Wishbird is a beautiful engaging fantasy for primary children to read or to have read to them.

I’d love to see the Wishbird made into a full-colour picture book and even a short film.

Highly recommended; a possible gateway drug leading to the Hobbit