Meet the cast of The King of the Birds!

In The King of the Birds, inspired by the life of Flannery O’Connor, a young fan of fowl brings home a peacock to be the king of her collection, but he refuses to show off his colorful tail. Along the way, we’re introduced to a fine flock of feathered friends. Meet:

the_chicken1

the_chicken2

the_chicken3

the_chicken4

the_duck

the_goose

the_pheasant

the_quail

the_turkey

the_peahen

the_peacock

This picture book was inspired by the life and work of Flannery O’Connor, including her essay “The King of the Birds” (copyright by Flannery O’Connor, copyright renewed by Regina Cline O’Connor. All rights reserved).

A Note About Flannery O’Connor from The King of the Birds

In The King of the Birds, inspired by the life of Flannery O’Connor, a young fan of fowl brings home a peacock to be the king of her collection, but he refuses to show off his colorful tail. The girl goes to great lengths to encourage the peacock to display his plumage — she throws him a party, lets him play in the fig tree, feeds him flowers and stages a parade — all to no avail.

Then she finally stumbles on the perfect solution. When she introduces the queen of the birds — a peahen — to her collection, the peacock immediately displays his glorious shimmering tail.

This delightful story, full of humor and heart, celebrates the legacy of a great American writer.

The last page of the book includes an author’s note about Flannery O’Connor — but for those who haven’t had a chance to pick up the book yet, we thought we would put the note up here on our blog just so everyone could learn more about Flannery O’Connor:

This story was inspired by the life and writings of Flannery O’Connor, who was born in Georgia in 1925 and departed our world at the age of thirty-nine, surrounded by her collection of ducks, swans, guinea hens and — of course — peacocks.

The real Flannery described her young self as a “pigeon-toed child with a receding chin and a you-leave-me-alone-or-I’ll-bite-you complex.” When Flannery was six, she really did appear in the news because of a chicken she had trained to walk backwards.

Ms. O’Connor and her “I’ll-bite-you complex” went on to write stories that un-hid people’s ugly, mean parts and proved that everybody — even preachers and grandmothers — needs to be forgiven.

When you are older, go read “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” and let us know what you think.

Acree & Natalie


THE KING OF THE BIRDS Written by Acree Graham Macam Illustrated by Natalie Nelson

In this picture book, inspired by the life of Flannery O’Connor, a young fan of fowl brings home a peacock to be the king of her collection, but he refuses to show off his colorful tail. The girl goes to great lengths to encourage the peacock to display his plumage — she throws him a party, lets him play in the fig tree, feeds him flowers and stages a parade — all to no avail.

Then she finally stumbles on the perfect solution. When she introduces the queen of the birds — a peahen — to her collection, the peacock immediately displays his glorious shimmering tail.

This delightful story, full of humor and heart, celebrates the legacy of a great American writer.

Includes an author’s note about Flannery O’Connor.

As for Me and Your House

By Sara Cassidy

I grew up in a series of large brick houses with room for my parents and four older siblings, and ample cushioned places to curl up with a book. More often than not, though, I was outside, climbing trees and drainpipes, biking secret trails through riverside woods, or collecting bottles to cash in at the local store. I was fully encouraged “to get out into the world, to see and touch and do” as my father would say. I am lucky my parents were yea-sayers who dove in, accepting all invitations. I could read anything that I wanted to, listen to any record that interested me, go anywhere in the neighborhood. As long was I was home in time, I was never questioned about where I had been.

So, my inner life was my own. The joyous privacy of forging, unfolding, mapping the world as I saw it, protected, honored. Once in a while, my mother, passing through the room where I sat reading or simply staring into space, would sing penny for your thoughts. In my memory I see her offering an actual penny! But she didn’t really expect anything, was only shining a light on the small copper door, the way in and out.

In A Boy Named Queen, Evelyn develops her inner life in a different set of circumstances. Instead of a respectful distance, her parents, without rich inner lives themselves, are unaware of hers, and this gives her the privacy to develop it. But her mother also warns her not to let her imagination get away from her; she certainly never points to the copper door.

A Boy Named Queen gently considers gender identity and gender expression, and bullying, but it is primarily about the friendship between Evelyn and Queen, both outwardly unalike, but intellectually robust. Evelyn is from a house that is routine bound, quiet, even depressed. Queen’s house is filled with music, candlelight, other creatures. His parents are artists and musicians. They cook interesting meals and let the dog eat at the table once a week. Meeting Queen’s family shows Evelyn that her imagination is viable: the world has plenty of room for such colors.

I realized after writing A Boy Named Queen that it has roots in my mother’s childhood and a story she often told about her friend Molly. My mother grew up in a stark, suburban house where conversation was thin, much like in Evelyn’s house. Down the block, though, Molly’s house had wide, open rooms, a piano, frequent parties, jazz music, laughter, women — and men — in flowing clothes! Molly’s house opened the world to my mother (who became a fierce intellect and writer).

When I was eight, only one child in my grade three class had divorced parents. My first sleepover was at her apartment (apartment!), where she lived with her mother. How different it was from my house. Yet it was happy. Full. It was only a different permutation of family. In grade four, another friend’s mother greeted me at the door in a housecoat, in the middle of the afternoon. I learned, from her mistimed embraces and the liquid tilt of her movements, that she drank. I worried about her, but mostly I got on with playing with my friend, bouncing for hours on her bed, perhaps dispelling darkness, restoring my friend’s rightful ball of fortune.

Some of my childhood friends’ families were more rollicking than ours, others strangely quiet. One friend’s father smoked cigarettes in the darkness of his office. Another friend’s parents never touched. I observed it all, felt and smelled it all.

The houses we step into as children reveal the world to us in the same way that novels do. And they show us, by contrast or familiarity, our own homes, and ourselves. For Evelyn in A Boy Named Queen, the colors of Queen’s house reflect and confirm her rich inner life. In the last scene of the book, she is emboldened to share it.


A BOY NAMED QUEEN by Sara Cassidy

Evelyn is both aghast and fascinated when a new boy comes to grade five and tells everyone his name is Queen. Queen wears shiny gym shorts and wants to organize a chess/environment club. His father plays weird loud music and has tattoos.

How will the class react? How will Evelyn?

Evelyn is an only child with a strict routine and an even stricter mother. And yet in her quiet way she notices things. She takes particular notice of this boy named Queen. The way the bullies don’t seem to faze him. The way he seems to live by his own rules. When it turns out that they take the same route home from school, Evelyn and Queen become friends, almost against Evelyn’s better judgment. She even finds Queen irritating at times. Why doesn’t he just shut up and stop attracting so much attention to himself?

Yet he is the most interesting person she has ever met. So when she receives a last-minute invitation to his birthday party, she knows she must somehow persuade her mother to let her go, even if it means ignoring the No Gifts request and shopping for what her mother considers to be an appropriate gift, appropriately wrapped with “boy” wrapping paper.

Her visit to Queen’s house opens Evelyn’s eyes to a whole new world, including an unconventional goody bag (leftover potato latkes wrapped in waxed paper and a pair of barely used red sneakers). And when it comes time for her to take something to school for Hype and Share, Evelyn suddenly looks at her chosen offering — her mother’s antique cream jug — and sees new and marvelous possibilities.

Sara O’Leary on A Family Is a Family Is a Family

Sara O'Leary A Family Is a Family Is a Family

Seeing Qin Leng’s final art for this book was full of joyful surprises. My sons and I sat and turned the pages, taking it in turn to point things out and make little exhortations.

There is such a lovely lightness of touch to Qin’s work but when you slow down to look you see joy imbued in each of the family groups. The loveliest surprise for me was turning to the final page and seeing that within the narrative of the story, the classroom functions as another family.

My mother, June McDonald, was a teacher for years. She taught Special Ed at a number of schools in Saskatoon and I know that for many students she was the loving, stabilizing influence in their lives. Lately on social media, I’ve noticed acquaintances talking about favourite teachers from childhood. I know there will be many adults out there who remember my mother the same way.

My first school was Elsie Dorsey School in Regina, Saskatchewan. This picture shows me and my classmates at about the same age as the narrator and her classmates in A Family Is a Family Is a Family. After this year, my family moved away and I no longer remember the names of most of the children arrayed in rows here. But I do remember being at the school and staring at the page of an old Dick and Jane reader. I remember the moment that the letters on the page suddenly shifted for me and became the word “wagon.” I remember how in that moment the code was broken and I could read. Reading (and writing) became one of the great joys of my life.

The narrator in my story is nervous because she thinks she is not the same as everybody else in the group. Her nervousness arises from her family situation but there are all sorts of reasons for children to feel different. I’d like to pay tribute to all teachers where the classroom becomes a place where difference can be celebrated and explored and where the tentative, anxious child can be made to feel at home.


Sara O'Leary A Family Is a Family Is a Family

When a teacher asks the children in her class to think about what makes their families special, the answers are all different in many ways — but the same in the one way that matters most of all.

One child is worried that her family is just too different to explain, but listens as her classmates talk about what makes their families special. One is raised by a grandmother, and another has two dads. One has many stepsiblings, and another has a new baby in the family.

As her classmates describe who they live with and who loves them — family of every shape, size and every kind of relation — the child realizes that as long as her family is full of caring people, it is special.

A warm and whimsical look at many types of families, written by award-winning author Sara O’Leary, with quirky and sweet illustrations by Qin Leng.

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