Swordbird by Nancy Yi Fan
The Swordbird Song
by Kat Hooper
To be sung to the tune of “The Trees” by Rush.
The trouble with the blue jays,
(And they’re quite convinced they’re right)
They say the cardinals filched their babies
And they grabbed their food at night.
But the cardinals didn’t do it,
‘Twas the hawk and all his knaves
They are building a strong fortress
And the woodbirds will be slaves!
There is trouble in the Forest,
But the Swordbird, it is said,
Can be called to fight oppression
And can make the bad birds dead.
[very long awesome instrumental section]
So the woodbirds formed a union
And demanded equal rights
“That hawk is just too greedy;
We will ask Swordbird to fight.”
Now there’s no more hawk oppression,
Peace and freedom are restored,
And the birds are all kept equal
By Swordbird’s magic sword.
Swordbird is a children’s fantasy novel written by Chinese-American Nancy Yi Fan after the events of September 11, 2001. Fan was 10 years old when she started writing Swordbird and she sold it to HarperCollins when she was 12. The novel is an anthropomorphic fantasy — all of the characters are birds — and the fact that it was written by a 12 year old, and carries an unmistakable message of peace, has made it a popular choice for elementary school teachers’ required reading lists. My son read it in fourth grade.
I listened to the audio version (Harper Audio, nicely narrated by Colleen Delany) with my kids in one evening. We all agreed that the plot was a lot like playing Angry Birds (and just as violent!). While the kids enjoyed it, I thought it was unoriginal (Redwall does it better) and predictable with flat characters, clumsy dialog, cardstock villains, and trite messages:
Peace is wonderful; freedom is sacred. As long as there is peace and freedom, there is tomorrow.
However, that’s because I’m comparing Swordbird to children’s books written by adults. Nancy Yi Fan’s accomplishment here is truly remarkable and I understand why school teachers want to expose their students to Swordbird. I am sincerely impressed with Miss Fan and I hope she continues to write. I feel guilty giving Swordbird only two stars, but I need to keep it consistent with our rating system. Swordbird is just “okay” as a novel, but I give 5 stars to Nancy Yi Fan!
Swordbird & Sword Quest — (2007-2013) Ages 9-12. Publisher: An exciting and action-packed tale of birds at war, this novel shows how friendship and courage can overcome tyranny. Stone-run Forest was once a peaceful place, but suddenly the local woodbird tribes, the Cardinals and Blue Jays, find themselves at odds — precious food supplies have been stolen and fighting has broken out. Unbeknown to the woodbirds, the evil hawk Turnatt has been turning the tribes against one another as part of his evil strategy to take over the forest. He has already enslaved many captives from the surrounding tribes, who he’s been forcing to build an evil fortress in which he plans to confine all the woodbirds. And the Cardinals and Blue Jays are to be his next victims. Thanks to an escaped slavebird Miltin, the woodbirds learn of Turnatt’s strategy. But the only way to save the forest is to call on the legendary Swordbird — the heroic bird of peace. Young birds Aska and Miltin fly off on a dangerous mission to find the Leasone gem — paired with an ancient song from the Old Scripture, this is the only way to conjure Swordbird’s help. But will they return in time to save the forest, or even make it back at all…