It’s often easy to put your finger on the theme of a picture book. But Two Many Birds requires multiple fingers. It makes you think. It makes you take another look. It makes you question. And it makes you wonder.
And that, my friends, is the peak of picture book perfection.
Oh, and it makes you laugh, too. The peak de résistance!
Starting with the cover, we see a “rulemaker” bird shouting at all of the hilariously coifed/attired birds roosting in a tree. But they don’t appear to be paying much attention to him. In fact, many look quite distracted doing other things, including yawning.
Astute readers, especially those kids who know the difference between “two” and “too,” will enjoy picking out what appears to be a misuse of the word. They will be tickled to discover mid-book why the word “two” is used.
Now, open the cover, and we’re treated to a bird waiting line on the end papers, and a sign reminiscent of any theme park, a “15 minute wait from this point” marker.
[My apologies for the bleached out scan. The actual colors are as brilliant as those featured on the cover.]
The birds are all waiting in line for tickets to perch in a solitary, giant tree. And the rulemaker bird is responsible for making sure that the tree doesn’t exceed a maximum occupancy of 100 birds. His digital counter keeps track.
But that’s not all, this grumpy authoritarian bird makes up additional rules like “No running!” for the first bird who’s excited to reach the tree.
There’s “No yelling” for the second bird who wants to sing as it climbs.
“No fluffing of feathers!” and hair that can’t go above a certain height line.
More and more and more rules, including “No nesting!” and “No pooping on the ground!!!!!” Kids will love that one!
Until the limit is reached and the rulemaker bird says “No more birds allowed!”
At this point, signs litter the ground below the tree, showing additional arbitrary rules and a birda-potty. Birds are turned away because there is no more room.
The rulemaker bird heads off to eat lunch, yelling “And quit your crackling!”
We then turn our attention to the facing page, and spy one special bird with an egg on its head. (Here’s a close-up.)
We know exactly where to look among all 100 birds, because this special one has different eyes, looking upward toward its hair nest. The eyes are the only crescents of white on a full color page. The rulemaker bird is referring to that egg…and I wonder, Is it crackling?
While the rulemaker bird is eating his acorn lunch in the V.I.B. section, LOL, that egg gets busy. Here is where I will abandon the plot description, because what transpires in the remaining pages is too original to spoil. I want you all to read this book!
Suffice to say, I think Two Many Birds is about resource scarcity, and how the making of rules (a few well-intentioned, but many arbitrary and ridiculous) to protect scarce resources for use by the few is not the best answer to the problem of scarcity. One must step outside of the problem and realize that perhaps the answer is to increase the level of resources available to all, and then, perhaps many of those arbitrary rules will fall away.
The result? More birds will be happy.
But one could also say that this book is about the oppressed rising up against their oppressors. It’s about the miserable, negative mindset-of-deprivation of the oppressors. It’s about how life cannot be denied. How something as small as a germinating seed can change one’s outlook. And it’s about how the oppressor can leave that authoritarian cap (reminiscent of a police cap) behind and be reformed—for the most part—and replace it with a party hat, worn in a changed-for-the-better world.
Kudos to Cindy Derby for creating a fabulous, thought-provoking book that also serves as a beautiful work of art.
One more note: don’t forget to check under the dust jacket for even more bird goodness. So many small touches of perfection in this book, including the sign on the back cover: “No reading!”
Get out your art materials and create your own birds in Cindy Derby’s style. Here’s one of Cindy’s hand-painted creations that came with my early pre-order. Thank you, Cindy and Books Inc!
Make a list of rules that are important for all to follow. Make a list of rules that benefit only a certain group of people or animals, or a list that is completely silly. Discuss what makes a rule fair and important for all, and what makes a rule unfair or silly.
Pair this book with Noodlephant by Jacob Kramer, Illus. by K-Fai Steele.
Title: Two Many Birds
Author/Illustrator: Cindy Derby
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 2020
Age: Preschool – adult
Themes: rulemaking, fairness, authoritarianism, birds, trees
For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s blog.