The two of them are friends, and it was a bad day at school. One black eye, a torn lip, fists clenched with rage. Adrian gets into trouble with everyone.
Santiago never has any problems.
But the two of them are friends, and it was a bad day.
The above excerpt is the beginning of a story of want and yearning, set in an unnamed Latin American country (probably Mexico) and translated from the Spanish. The two boys, who live in the bleak outskirts of a city, take comfort in looking at the sky and studying the small animals which inhabit the waste ground which is their recreation area.
One day, they find a wounded bird which has been brought down from the sky by a well-thrown rock, an event readers are already aware of from the illustrations on the spread that precedes the title page.
“That’s a kestrel, or a goshawk, or a sparrow hawk,”
says Santiago. “Someone hurt it with a stone.”
“It’s a falcon, and I’m going to take care of it,”
A friendly local doctor sets the bird’s broken wing, and the boys make a sanctuary for it “in a wooden box filled with straw high up in a tree”.
Caring for the bird awakens not only Adrian’s softer side but an interest in finding out about birds of prey. Wanting to share the information gives him the courage to speak up in class for the first time, and spending time with this creature that he has helped gives him some peace in his troubled life.
When he is sad, Adrian climbs the tree and looks
at his friend, the falcon. They know each other, they
can feel their hearts beating when they are together.
The image that accompanies this passage shows Adrian gazing over the landscape of housing blocks and radio towers with the falcon wrapped in his arms.
A big storm rolls in, and Adrian and Santiago are worried when they find the falcon’s box smashed on the ground. There is not sign of the bird. However, a few days later, they see a falcon swooping through the sky in pursuit of a pigeon. It screams a greeting to the boys.
Is it the same one?
To Santiago it seems different – another bird. He isn’t sure.
But he had never seen any other falcon in this neighborhood
that has been forgotten by everybody. And he sees tears on
his friend’s cheeks – his friend who never cries, not even when
they were both little children.
Mexican author Buitrago has written a number of positively-reviewed Spanish-language children’s books. Telling this story mostly in the present tense puts readers in the moment although there are a few instances where a shift from present to past tense makes for some rather awkward constructions. Readers experience first the boys’ feeling of hopelessness and then the hope that tending to and observing a bird as free as their falcon brings to Adrian and Santiago’s lives.
Buitrago has collaborated before with Yockteng, an award-winning illustrator from Colombia. These digitally-created pictures use darker shades of blue, brown and gray with shapes heavily outlined in black to emphasize the somber mood. Not much is explicitly stated in the text about the condition of the boys’ lives; it is more subtly pointed out in the spreads showing expanses of shack-like housing and cinder block walls covered by graffiti, and the absence of parents and other family members. The only adult who makes an appearance in the book aside from the helpful doctor is the boys’ teacher who watches the change that knowing the falcon has made for Adrian.
Adults introducing the book to readers may want to point out the use of the plural “falcons” in the title. There is more than a bird hurting here.
Wounded Falcons provides a window into two young lives in a situation that will be unfamiliar to many Canadian children, with a hint at the end of the story that better things may be to come.
Ellen Heaney is a retired children’s librarian living on Coquitlam, British Columbia.