If you are familiar with Hans Christian Anderson’s story of the Nightingale then you will feel its shadow in this book from Nikki Loftin called Nightingale’s Nest. It came out last February but I am just reading it now as the year comes to a close.
The book fits under the genre of magical realism. Loftin keeps the story in real life sorrows, loss and pressures of growing up poor in a small Texas town but quietly weaves magic into the relationships of her main characters.
This is the summer Little John’s family is struggling to understand the loss of their youngest child who fell from a tree, the mounting debt, and the larger issues of both parents mental health in light of the accident.
As Little John works along side his father to earn money for the rent he hears a sound like no other sound – a bird? a girl? A song that brings joy to his heart. This singing comes from a small girl, named Gayle, sitting in a nest in a tree next door to where they are working. A girl who has many troubles of her own.
It is their story that comes to life as Little John struggles with the needs of his family and the protection he feels and wants to provide for Gayle. This is a well crafted story of loss, betrayal and healing.
This would be a great class read aloud with so many points of discussion.
- Who is responsible for the death of Little John’s sister – was it his fault?
- “I thought the world would be a better place if every tree in it was cut down” do you agree and why would Little John say this?
- Do you agree with the way the father handle’s the issue in the story?
- Should Little John have told his parents about Gayle?
- Should he have taken the money from Mr. King, otherwise known as the Emperor?
I could go on but don’t want to give to much away – singing, money and the Emperor all harken back to Anderson’s folk tale – just a touch but not a retelling.
This would be a great story to pair with a folk tale unit. Students could read Anderson’s folk tale of the Nightingale as you are reading Loftin’s book to the class. It would make a good lesson on how authors use other writers to help them build new stories. Students could then try it themselves – using a basic structure from their study of folk tales to build their own.
Here is a link to Loftin’s web site where you can also find a discussion guide.
If you like this one – Nikki has an older book called The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy. I have not read it but reviews remind me a bit of Hazel and Gretel off to dine on the witch’s house. This might be great to have available for those students who want a bit more of Nikki’s tales and there is a new one due out next February called Wish Girl – sounds interesting as well.