In his introduction, Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes, how deeply moving and poignant it is to think of what gave rise to Fly, Eagle, Fly! (ages 5-9) it was written for [author Gregorowski's] dying child. Indeed, this adapted African fable is a hopeful and stirring tale.
The story begins when a farmer happens upon an eagle chick blown from its nest by the winds of a great storm. The well-intentioned farmer rescues the chick and raises it as a chicken.
Villagers watch in amusement as the maturing eagle continues to behave as a chicken. When a visiting friend sees the confined eagle, he is determined to set it free. Unaware that it is confined, the eagle doesn't know something more is waiting beyond the farm; in short, the eagle doesn't know it can fly.
After two failed attempts, the farmer and his friend take the eagle to a distant mountaintop. As the sun rises, the friend instructs the eagle, You belong not to the earth, but to the sky. Fly, Eagle, Fly! and with that, the eagle fulfills its destiny.
Illustrator Niki Daly, who dedicates the book to the children of South Africa, uses watercolors that are broad, sweeping, and very detailed. Full of browns, greens, and oranges, the book feels earthy and warm. And, while the story itself describes few, if any, daily village activities, Daly's illustrations are sufficiently explicit, and children will gain a rudimentary sense of some traditional African architectural structures, textiles, and geography. Further, the illustrations represent present-day Africa, where people wear contemporary clothing as well as traditional African garb. In this sense, Fly, Eagle, Fly! points to the fable's timelessness.
This is a tale of spirit and hope, and Desmond Tutu acknowledges its spiritual significance. Fly, Eagle, Fly! is an ever-expanding tale; so rich and dense are its metaphors that there is no single way to read this story. I was particularly moved by the story's implication that if we acknowledge what's in our hearts, we can fulfill our destiny.
Crystal Williams is a poet, and her first book, Kin (Michigan University Press), will be available this spring.