Saturday, August 30, 2014

Children's Book Week: "Nest"--Esther Ehrlich's Debut Novel Now for Sale at Bookstands!

This book, Nest, by Esther Ehrlich, comes
to book stands on September 9, 2014. [1]
Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     A dog-eared field guide is gripped in one hand while the other grips his binoculars and the man peers through them. He watches the birds--one and then another. His eyes searching... searching...searching. All his long waking hours sitting quietly...observing. 

     Hour upon hour, he is "in the grip of an ornithological frenzy." Night comes and, reluctantly, he goes to his bed--surrounding himself with his books about birds. He reads about trips he can take to observe, yet more birds. He looks at the "field markings of species"--those birds he hasn't yet observed through his binocs. He studies the markings. And, studying the markings, he falls into slumber.  He dreams of birds. 

     Who is the man in the "grip of an ornithological frenzy"? What man would spend hour upon hour with his binoculars watching birds? James Marcus of the Los Angeles Times, tells us in a book review that he did of The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History, that it was none other than the author, Jonathan Franzen. 

This is just one guide to the birds
of Cape Cod. This book is
by Peter Trull. [4]

     Marcus indicates that it is the last chapter of Franzen's book, that captivates him. The Chapter, entitled, "My Bird Problem," is, according to Marcus, simply is the best chapter of the entire book. Marcus goes on to say that Franzen "seems to be taking Emily Dickinson at her word: "Hope, if indeed it existed, is most certainly the thing with feathers." [3]

     Chirp, our young protagonist, in Esther Ehrlich's debut novel, Nest, is so very taken with birds. She seems to live in the world of birds, not unlike Jonathan Franzen, in his "ornithological frenzy." Just as some children seek the shelter of books, Chirp seeks the refuge of the salt marsh and the birds she loves. But, before we talk any more about Chirp and her family, let's take a quick look at the synopsis of Esther Ehrlich's book


A Red-throated Loon, photo by
Neil Hayward [5]
     Esther Ehrlich writes a deeply-felt account for middle-grade school readers about a young girl and her family. The sojourn of eleven-year-old Naomi, who prefers to be called "Chirp" because she loves birds--especially the rare Red-throated Loon who makes its appearance only infrequently in the area. Chirp lives with her older sister, Rachel, her father (who is a psychiatrist), and her mother who is a vivacious dancer--Chirp's mother communicates her ardent love of dancing to Chirp and her family. 

     To Chirp, indeed, the story is one of a journey of a family's changing life and traditions because of heartbreaking misfortune and tragedy that visits the small intimate family. Struggling to make sense of her life turned topsy-turvy, "Chirp" flees to the Cape Cod salt marsh to find comfort by her special tree and the birds that fill its branches and the sky around it. 

Chirp finds a bird's nest in her special
place, near her tree. The nest comes to
symbolize, for her, safety and security
in the inexplicable, topsy turvy world
into which she has been thrust. [6]
     Joey, a neighbor boy becomes "Chirp's" friend. Chirp learns about genuine friendship and love; she experiences a sharing of sorrow, and joy, as well as adventure and discovery. As Chirp learns about friendship, she also learns that there is a way through the chaotic, topsy-turvy, life she is living. Chirp and Joey devise a plan to create their own world and, in doing so, come to share a tender friendship that helps them to feel safe as birds in a nest--at least for a while.

I created this meme for you on for a
graphic image ([7]
   The thing that most impressed me about Esther Ehrlich's book, Nest, is that while many novels for teens and pre-teens write about dysfunctional families as a way to help children come to grip with problems life has thrown at them, Esther Ehr- lich stays away from the overly dysfunctional family as that kind of tool.

     Instead, Ehrlich writes about Naomi's (Chirp's) fam- ily as more of a contemporary family with its joyous tra- ditions, typical problems, and quirky parents in which Chirp feels safe and secure--until, that is, Chirp's family-world is turned upside down by tragedy. I really like the way Ehrlich helps the reader to focus on the girl, Naomi/Chirp, and how she deals with her world turned upside down, rather than the chaos of the family dysfunction. A brilliant choice in creating the framework of the story--one I enjoyed very much as a reader and one, I think, with which children will identify, appreciate and love.

     One of my favorite parts of the book is what Chirp does when tragedy strikes her family--she retreats to her room and builds a "nest" of her own with her clothes and sleeps there. She takes a terrible turn-of-events and creates her own haven of safety, her own nest. Also, later in the book, Chirp and Joey create a "metaphorical nest" of safety: they devise a plan to go to a special location and recreate for Chirp a safe, happy time in her life. This escape from reality into this metaphorical nest, for a time, gives Chirp hope. Even though the feelings of safety, hope, and happiness don't last, they do give Nest something precious--a friendship with Joey that is a different, intangible nest, trust, love, and safety in friendship.

Radagast has a birds nest in his
hair--a visual pun for the quote
in the paragraph on the right.[10]
     I really like the title of Ehrlich's book, "Nest." It is so appropriate for a variety of reasons. The first, of course, is the one I just mentioned: the family. Many sayings pervade cultures about birds and nests, such as: "The empty nest," "Light as a feather," "Nest egg," "A chattering bird builds no nest," "You cannot prevent birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair," [9] and, the one quote by Emily Dickinson that I gave you at the top of the blog post: "Hope, if indeed it existed, is most certainly the thing with feathers." Undoubtedly, for Chirp, her solace and " thing with feathers."

     Ehrlich's writing style is natural and easy with dialog that sounds realistic, lending the reader the perception intimacy and authenticity seldom seen in other teen or pre-teen novels. Then, we get to a scene where the writing calls for a more staccato approach to move the story along. I found these sections in the book a nice way of breaking up the smooth-flow of the story to give the reader a little variety in its exposition. Lovely.

     Finally, I have to tell you that I realized as I was reading the book that I had fallen in love with Chirp. She and Joey simply stole my heart. I came to love her passionate love for her mother, family, and friend, Joey. I loved her almost obsessive love for the Cape Cod marshes and her tree and birds, what James Marcus of the Los Angeles Times, called an "ornithological frenzy." So very, very charming.

     I would recommend this book to the target audience [Ages 10 and up or grades 5-7]. Since this book is a children's book for the ages I just listed, above, anyone should be able to read the book without discovering prohibitive material in its pages. The one caveat I always give readers is that if you are of a sensitive nature the themes of disease, death, suicide, loneliness, child abuse, and fear, perhaps you should consider the themes before reading the book. I found this book to deal sensitively with all of those themes--in fact, I would highly recommend this book to children dealing with any of those issues.

   Esther Ehrlich's, Nest, is an ardent and an remarkable tale of a middle-grade-aged girl and her love for her family and the birds of her Cape Cod marshes, one which sees this fascinating girl deal with tragedy, change, love and friendship. The powerful and tender novel will, undoubtedly haunt you long after you finish reading its pages. This image, the image of a young girl in her nest, will stay with you even after you finish the book with its ambiguous conclusion and leave you wondering what will become of Chirp and Joey. My Rating: For all the reasons I have given above, I give this book 4.0 stars out of 5.

     Thank you for joining me this week as we took a look at an exciting new children's book, Nest by Esther Ehrlich. Please join me again, next week as we look at a another new book. Until then, please consider picking up a book and reading it for a little
pleasure in your life.

Until next time...

...many happy pages of reading.


[1] "Nest." [Esther Ehrlich] Retrieved 08-08-14.
[2] "Wanna Be My Friend?" [The Kotek Report]-[Field glasses graphic] Retrieved 08-28-14.
[3] "Birds Become A Metaphor For Family Tug of War." Retrieved 08-28-14.
[4] "An Illustrated Guide to the Common Birds of Cape Cod." [by Peter Trull] Retrieved 08-28-14.
[5] "Periodic Wanderings." [Red-throated Loon] Retrieved 08-27-14.
[6] "Inspiration for Our Nest." [In The Fields] Retrieved 08-27-14.
[7] "My Whole World Has Been Turned Upside Down." Retrieved 08-30-14.
[8] "Hope." Retrieved 08-28-14.
[9] "Bird Proverbs and Sayings List." Retrieved 08-30-14.
[10] "Radagast." Retrieved 08-30-14.
[11] "Esther Ehrlich." [GoodReads Author] Retrieved 08-30-14.
[12] "Hair of the Dog: Blue Dot Double IPA." [5 star graphic] Retrieved 08-30-14.
[13]"Pictures From My Garden." Retrieved 08-11-14.
[*] "Net Galley." [Net Galley Disclosure] Retrieved 08-30-14.