For a #ThrowbackThursday spotlight on #OwnVoices today, I would like to invite you all back to 1997: a time when print newspapers regularly arrived on doorsteps and Brian Pinkney’s The Adventures of Sparrowboy was published to great acclaim.
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The picture book features Henry, a paperboy who is feeling depressed by the headlines in the news. While reading the paper before he makes his deliveries, he finds solace in the comics. He especially loves the story of Mark Steed, a police officer (Black like him) who changes from mortal to superhero when he transfers powers with a falcon and defends the defenseless as “Falconman.” Fiction becomes reality when a sparrow jumps in front of Henry’s bicycle and the two experience a mysterious “ZAP!”
Henry flies over his handlebars and soars into the sky, loop-de-looping over the neighborhood, delivering papers and helping animals and people in distress along the way. When he realizes that by flying, he has grounded the bird, Henry makes one final heroic act. After returning things to normal on Thurber Street, Henry notices that the big adventure has made him feel “just a little better.”
Pinkney employs the scratchboard technique of illustration for which he is famous, but his traditional picture book format shifts when the superhero elements come into play: captions, panels, and sound effects enthral readers and provide clues to them about what is actually happening. (The Falconman comic strip Henry loves is written by “Barney Nipkin,” a Brian Pinkney anagram.)
Even though print newspaper deliveries might not be part of every family’s routine in 2016, and a tween with a paper route is even harder to find—most young people still know what a newspaper is (and the comics format is as beloved as ever). The Adventures of Sparrowboy is relevant to today's readers, on account of the ever-increasing popularity of comics and graphic novels and the reality that the world's news can still be hard to grasp.
The Adventures of Sparrowboy validates the experience of seeing difficult news, and also engaging in a thrilling escape. It is recommended to any fans of visual narrative, especially those self-identified superhero kids looking for someone new to celebrate.
Reviewed by Elisa Gall