Chapter Book Review: The Mockingbird’s Manual by Seth Muller

The Mockingbird's ManualThe Mockingbird’s Manual written by Seth Muller, pictures by Bahe Whitethorn, Jr.

Book 1 of Windclaw Chronicles

From Goodreads: Near a dry streambed on a wind-swept spring day, Ellie Tsosie makes a strange discovery. She finds a startling gift, a book called The Mockingbird’s Manual. Ellie slowly wakes to a new and magical world, formed of the birds who have always lived around her home. But until the discovery, she never knew of their lives or of their secrets. In the first book of the Keepers of the Windclaw Chronicles, Ellie takes her first steps into the fantastic realm of the Animal World, where she comes to learn that she has a mission.

I would have LOVED this book as a girl. I am a bird person and the idea that you could find a book that allowed you to speak with birds, would have been so magical to me. The story follows Ellie as she discovers a manual that helps her communicate with the birds in her southwestern home. It takes Ellie a few days to figure out what is going on and what she needs to do to help.

Despite being the first in a series of three books The Mockingbird’s Manual does an excellent job of walking the line between setting up the series and creating a story that fits within the confines of the book. It isn’t a fast paced novel by any means, but it also isn’t slow and plodding. Again it strikes a nice balance, this time between giving growing readers something interesting to read without making it too complex for them to work through the mechanics of reading and keeping track of the plot. In other words, it’s a perfect transitional chapter book. I have not read the other two so I can’t speak to their difficulty level although I do know they are slightly longer than this one.

In terms of representation, the book is set in the Navajo Nation. Debbie Reese, children’s literature scholar and Nambe Pueblo member, always stresses the importance of tribal specificity in literature. “Native American” is far too broad of a term to be meaningful to anyone who is actually indigenous. This gives Native kids solid, realistic representation.

I would highly recommend the book (and the series) to all school libraries that serve third grade and up. I hesitate to call it a fantasy novel as the Native Nation it comes from may not view it as fantasy, but it fits in with other Euro-centric fantasy novels with talking animals, magical powers, and mystery. Not to mention Ellie being called to help in the Animal World. It would be a good series to start with before jumping into those (prolific) Warriors books or the Spirit Animals series. Be sure to hand it to kids who like animal books and your quiet fantasy loving girls who may not be quite ready for more difficult series.

Most beginning chapter book collections are lacking in any kind of diversity. It’s even more difficult to find Native representation so be sure to add this to your collections- home, school, or public library.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.