The Bird Within Me


Berta Hansson’s mother fell ill during Berta’s birth. Berta gifts her with paintings in the hope she will recover. Yet this is the early 20th century and the family live in northern Swedish farmland. Life is rigid, as are the expectations of Berta and her future. While her older sister travels to Karlskoga to train in domestic science, Berta has other dreams. They do not include becoming a housewife. Meanwhile Berta’s mother’s doctor thinks that Berta’s art shows that she is ‘gifted. That [she ] should continue to study… Perhaps be an artist.’ Yet, what chance does she have, really?

Berta is confined by conventions of her setting and expectation. Though she wonders about images Uncle Johan has shown her from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, all of that is far away and out of reach. It seems that even her clay bird can escape. What can Berta do?

The Bird Within Me is Berta Hansson’s story, as imagined and created by Sara Lundberg in a beautiful, heartfelt, green-glorious, picture book, translated by B.J. Epstein. Bookwagon adores this book and urges readers to explore its wonder.

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The Bird Within Me

Sra Lundberg

Translated by B.J. Epstein

(Book Island)– hardback

The Bird Within Me might emerge from the blue clay ‘in the gully outside our house.‘ Berta longs to be a bird, to fly away from her village to something else. Instead she is captive, called on ‘all the time’ while ‘everyone [thinks she is] ridiculous.’ There’s her farmer father, sisters and little brother and a harsh school master. Furthermore, there is her mother taken ill with tuberculosis at Berta’s birth. Somehow, maybe when Berta stayed with Uncle Johan, Berta caught a glimpse of that something else. Uncle Johan gave her a picture and told her that Michelangelo made it.
Berta wants to be an artist like Michelangelo, yet ‘it isn’t a real job. Especially if you’re a girl.’ Real jobs are about ‘taking care of a home.‘ Meanwhile Berta ‘feels a bursting and a bubbling’ and just wants to run away. She steals glimpses of the paintings on the walls of the doctor’s house. Her mother shows him Berta’s pictures and Berta hears his praise. Is there a chance? What will it take?
Berta Hansson’s story is told in The Bird Within Me. From being a younger daughter of a northern Swedish farmer, she battled expectation, guilt, lack of opportunity and confidence toward fulfilling her dream. This beautiful picture book history is an outstanding account and imagining of her struggle, inspiration and achievement.


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