Written and illustrated by P.D. Eastman, the children’s book Are you my mother? relates the story of a young bird’s search for his mother, who had left the nest to find food for her new infant a few scant moments before he hatched. Published originally in 1960 by Random House, this 64-page book is written on a mid-first grade level by a collaborator of the great Dr. Seuss. It combines easy words, large print, and simple, expressive pictures to convey both the humor and tension of the young bird’s plight.
Baby Bird, who is too young to fly, leaves the nest and conducts his search on foot. In a bizarre twist of fate, he walks right by his mother without ever seeing her, as she pulls the worm destined to be his breakfast from the ground. The archetype of the hero's existential quest to uncover his roots is a common theme in literature and the arts; witness recent incarnations in the forms of both Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker.
“I did have a mother,”
said the baby bird. “I
know I did. I have to
find her. I will. I WILL!”
Armed with only his innate (if naïve) curiosity and strong resolve, Baby Bird interrogates the strangers he meets on the way, but neither the kitten nor the hen, the dog, the cow, the old car, the tugboat, or the airplane respond to his oft-repeated question in the affirmative. In what is clearly the climactic scene in the story, Baby Bird sees a big thing (a steam shovel):
“There she is!” he said.
“There is my mother!”
He ran right up to it.
“Mother, Mother! Here
I am, Mother!” he said
to the big thing.
Alas, as anyone who read this story or had it read to them as a child probably remembers,*
the big thing just said, “SNORT.”
Much to Baby Bird’s shock and dismay, the big thing lifts him up in its bucket and carries him across the landscape, belching clouds of smoke as it goes.
“Where am I?” said the
baby bird. “I want to go
home! I want my
The big thing, acting quite literally as deus ex machina, deposits Baby Bird back in his nest, just as Mother Bird (red kerchief still tied firmly around her head) returns to the nest with the worm. Mother and son are joyously reunited.
Other classics by P.D. Eastman:
(equally good, if not quite as poignant)
Go Dog, Go
Fish out of Water
Robert the Rose Horse
The Best Nest
What Time Is It?
* Did I mention that this book was published in the United States? I don’t know if those of you in other countries had the pleasure of reading this as children…
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