Michelle Cuevas's Beyond the Laughing Sky
illustrated by Julie Morstad
Book review by Heather Job
Ages 8 - 12
Nashville isn't like most ten-year-old boys in Goosepimple, or anywhere else, for that matter. He lives in a treehouse in a pecan tree, eats nothing but nuts and seeds, and even has a beak and feathers.
Nashville was hatched from an egg, and has grown up in between being a boy and a bird.
He would prefer the latter.
Despite Nashville's birdlike origins, he doesn't have wings.
And despite the support and acceptance from his loving family, who embrace and even encourage Nashville's avian tendencies, he feels like he belongs in the sky.
After brief attempts to fit in amongst his peers, Nashville decides that even if he never grows wings, that won't stop him from flying.
As Nashville joins the world in which he belongs, his family has to let him leave the nest.
Beyond the Laughing Sky is a gentle and magical read.
The language is poetic and lyrical, and the book carries the tenderness of a bedtime picture book, with delicious description and a sweet sentiment that never comes off as saccharine.
Nashville is a character the reader will love immediately - his vulnerability, loneliness, determination, and bravery to be himself echo traits that we have all, at some point, had (or, in some cases, wished we had) ourselves.
In some ways, he reminds me of August, from R.J. Palacio's Wonder:
he's a great kid, but he is ostracized for things he can't control, and
somehow manages to stay true to himself despite it all.
There are other books about young boys who are part, or mostly, animal (Stuart Little comes to mind). But while those books tend to feature the animal child absorbed as part of a human family, through this entire book it seems that Nashville's family knows he will not be with them forever.
They make him feel as accepted as they can - living in the treehouse, perching on swings at the dinner table, and offering him a birdbath to make him feel more at home - but none of them seem surprised when Nashville flies away.
This is where Beyond the Laughing Sky
feels magical. While it is amazing to be loved and accepted, sometimes
the best thing to do when you love something - or someone - is to let it
Beyond the Laughing Sky is a charming and beautifully told story about being yourself, and about the release that comes with it. Nashville teaches us that nothing is impossible: "there's things you've seen and things you may not have, but there ain't nothing that's impossible."
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