“I intend to stand firm and let the peacocks multiply, for I am sure that, in the end, the last word will be theirs.” —Flannery O’Connor
When she was young, the writer Flannery O’Connor was captivated by the chickens in her yard. She’d watch their wings flap, their beaks peck, and their eyes glint. At age six, her life was forever changed when she and a chicken she had been training to walk forwards and backwards were featured in the Pathé News, and she realized that people want to see what is odd and strange in life. But while she loved birds of all varieties and kept several species around the house, it was the peacocks that came to dominate her life. Written by Amy Alznauer with devotional attention to all things odd and illustrated in radiant paint by Ping Zhu, The Strange Birds of Flannery O’Connor explores the beginnings of one author’s lifelong obsession.
Amy Alznauer lives in Chicago with her husband, two children, a dog, a parakeet, sometimes chicks, and a part-time fish, but, as of today, no elephants or peacocks.
Ping Zhu is a freelance illustrator who has worked with clients big and small, won some awards based on the work she did for aforementioned clients, attracted new clients with shiny awards, and is hoping to maintain her livelihood in Brooklyn by repeating that cycle.
Alznauer treats writer Flannery O'Connor's life with exceptional delicacy and depth of feeling. Regularly chastised by her mother, the girl devotes herself to her chickens, gaining brief fame by training one to walk backward. "There was something about strangeness that made people sit up and look," she discovers. As an adult, O'Connor is diagnosed with lupus, and her fame as a writer who "wanted to wake readers up like a rooster crowing" grows as her health deteriorates. At last, living at home with her mother, she fills her yard with peacocks, whose unearthly beauty like "a thousand haloed suns" intoxicates her. Using bold swaths of color, Zhu often shows O'Connor from far off, visualizing her isolation; the birds, by contrast, sit front and center, their plumage crisp and colorful. Alznauer understands her subject's instinctive attentiveness to the beauty of anything that doesn't fit in: "She felt her heart filling up with grief but even more with wonder. How strange to find something so large and beautiful rushing in with all that sadness." Ages 4 8.