My Name is Mina, by David Almond
On the Fourth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four colly birds...
I know, right? I always thought it was 'calling birds', too. But, according to Wikipedia—bastion of accurate information that it is—it was originally 'colly birds', which is another term for blackbirds. And so I chose to read My Name is Mina, David Almond's prequel to Skellig, in which, over the course of the book, Mina keeps an eye on the nesting blackbirds who live in her tree: the place she spends the majority of her time writing and thinking and dreaming.
As it's written in the form of Mina's journal, there isn't a simple, over-arching plot with an easily identified conflict to be resolved, quest to be completed, or problem to be overcome. In it, she describes her day-to-day life with her mother, tells the story of how she came to be homeschooled, and intersperses her commentary with poems and wordplay and ideas for educational exercises that she believes are absent from the traditional classroom experience. She looks at and experiences the world with joy and wonder, takes pleasure in learning new words—so much so that she gets an immense amount of satisfaction (you can totally feel it) in writing out her favorites in BOLD CAPS—and walks through life constantly finding the EXTRAORDINARY in the ordinary.
Her joy and curiosity are both genuine and infectious—when she mentioned learning that a group of goldfinches is called a charm, I was prompted to do some quick Googling about my beloved state bird* and then later, for jigsaw puzzles that feature the work of Paul Klee**—and, though I was briefly concerned that Mina might fall into the ranks of characters like Stargirl and Ida B.***, she didn't. Because her staunch individuality and wide-eyed wonder are tempered with true thoughtfulness, with a determination to understand the world and her place in it, and sometimes, with frustration and anger and grief and a desire to Act Out.
In other words, her voice reads three-dimensional and true, and it was a pleasure to spend my morning with her. In another place, in another time, some of her ideas would have literally been viewed as heresy—at one point, it occurs to her that sometimes it feels that the world we live in could actually heaven, and that we could all be angels; at another, she muses about how the voice of God speaks through the beaks of birds; at another, she thinks about how writing is creation, and how, in a way, that makes the writer a sort of God—but here and now, they come off as purely lovely.
*A group of black-capped chickadees is called a BANDITRY or a DISSIMULATION. Is that not the BEST THING EVER? So perfect.
**I now have my eye on this one.
***Characters who are so Quirky and Full of Whimsy that I, with my bottomless supply of crankiness, find them insufferable.