The Children's Book Compass

The Secret Message

Posted on: December 21, 2010

The Secret Message by Mina Javaherbin.  Illustrated by Bruce Whatley.  (2010).  Pages not numbered.  Disney/Hyperion.  Grades K-4.  Picture Book.

First, children will be intrigued by the title and then they will want to decipher the message.  A wealthy Persian merchant attracts customers to his shop with a talented parrot from India who hangs in a golden cage.  All day the parrot sings of his longing for the Indian forest.  The parrot also can talk.  When the merchant travels to India to purchase more goods, everyone in his household requests a gift.  The parrot doesn’t.  Instead he asks that the when the merchant passes through the Indian forest that he delivers this message to the parrots flying free:

“Far away from India, I own a parrot that looks like you.  He sent a message: he remembers flying in the forest, hearing your sweet voices, and smelling the trees.  He lives inside a beautiful cage that I bought for him.  It has three golden swings inside.”

In response to the message the wild parrots play a trick on the merchant.  It appears that each of them dies.  When the merchant tells his parrot what happened, the parrot also appears to keel over and die.  In horror the merchant lifts him out of the cage.  The parrot escapes and flies away to join his friends in India.  The ending ties up the story in a satisfactory way as it delves into the essential nature of freedom.  The author note at the end explains how this story was a favorite in her childhood.  Years later she discovered the story was based on an ancient poem by Rumi, the 13th century poet.  Whatley’s colorful acrylic illustrations add vivid details to the characterizations and the setting.

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