Every Sparrow Was Made to Fly by Indian American debut author Lin Thomas is an imaginative and inspiring children’s tale.
By Har Swarup Singh, Ph.D*
Lin Thomas has written a heartwarming story of a 12-year-old girl, Samelda (Sammy), who moves with her parents from Goa, in India, to the United States. This forces her to make noticeable cultural adjustment. Adapting to new environs and a different lifestyle, in a somewhat alien setting characterized by a multicultural milieu, proves rather challenging to her.
I believe a good writer of children’s books has to have a high degree of sensitivity to the issues faced by young ones, and the ability to narrate the story in a way that appeal to children as well as to the grownups. The author’s style has to be hip and exaggerated, in keeping with kid’s thinking, their emotional quotient and apparent dependence on adults. Their dependence, especially family members and relatives, to act as guides and informal intermediaries has to be kept in mind. This enables and encourages kids to liven up their conversation and comments. Thomas understands these matrices of relationships and socio-cultural undercurrents, and scores well on all counts relevant to judging writers of children’s books and articles, or comics.
Regarding word usage, Thomas’ selection is superb — apropos of the context of the story. Thus, Sammy’s vocabulary and expressions include the word scrumptious (approved by Webster) for delicious, and yummilicious (not appearing yet in the Webster’s dictionary). “Yummy” and “yum yum” were already in use when I was a small kid (and that was a long time ago!).
In Every Sparrow Was Made to Fly, the first three chapters relate to Sammy’s life in Goa. The charm of Goa is spelled out well. I can appreciate that better than an average reader because I had the pleasure of spending a leisurely fortnight there during two official visits, hosted each time by the State’s Governor (both happened to be distant relatives). The Raj Bhavan (Governor’s Mansion) there is among the better ones in India, and staying there opened doors everywhere as I was assigned an official chaperone and stately transportation!
I had read about the history of Goa, and of Portugal relating to India, and once had the pleasure of spending over two weeks attending an intergovernmental consultation. Since I had thoroughly enjoyed sightseeing, and being with people in Goa and Portugal, I better control my urge to get off on a tangent and tell my story!
Back to dear Sammy, who makes an unexpected discovery while leaving India for the United States with her family. She was given a parting gift by Uncle Georgy, a painting on which were written the words “When they meet.” The painting — what was written on it and what was inside the frame —proved to be a mystery tackling of which forms a major part of the story. In stages, the mystery deepens.
Then, one day, while Sammy was examining the coconut trees in the magical painting she found another manifestation of “When they meet.”
The story of the painting is somewhat like peeling an onion, removing each peel exposes newer surface area — one after another!
This suspenseful account is the second major part of the interesting story by Thomas, following the first part dealing with Sammy’s childhood and sub-teen years in Goa described earlier. The third key part of the story (interspersed with narration in the second part as well) is the immigrants’ initial experience in the United States and socio-cultural adjustment and acclimatization to a foreign culture as years go by. Even with English language familiarity and a common democratic/diversity-accepting political system, adjustments are needed on the part of immigrants to accommodate, and adjust to, differences in customs and mores prevailing in the two nations.
Sammy naturally had difficulties in feeling comfortable in her new setting in the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Region, and especially in her school because of both push (from the United States) and pull (toward India) factors — push being the alien American setting and having no friends for sometime; pull was the nice and comfortable life in beautiful Goa and having many close friends.
She describes her liking for the family’s apartment and waxes eloquent about the view from the rooftop/terrace at sunset: “The mighty sun is about to set, and the azure sky has streaks of carrot-orange, ruby, pink, and gold. The clouds make patterns and the sun gradually sinks in the waters… The cheerful moon greets us on the other side of the terrace.”
Despite moving away, Sammy continues to have good friends in Goa but for a while has none in the United States. Bemoaning loneliness she exclaims, “If only I had one good friend here. Just one.” A sparrow to which reference has been made earlier proves to be a very good friend promising to help her with her new life in the United States. She advises and guides Sammy from time to time, saying: “Be a good friend and you will make plenty of friends,” “Each one of us was made to be successful,” or “Be nice, take risks.”
Undoubtedly, in life taking risks is highly important. In her book, The Measure of Our Success — a Letter to My Children and Yours (a 1992 New York Times Bestseller), Marian Wright Edelman talks about “Twenty-Five Lessons of Life.” At No. 5 is “Don’t be afraid of taking risks or of being criticized.” Ms. Edelman’s next lesson (no. 6) relates to parenting. Child rearing and family life ought to be taken seriously. We know kids do not always cooperate but parents have to try harder. Even Sammy — on the whole a very good kid — at times is unwilling to be compliant. On occasions, she gets annoyed by suggestions parents make thinking of things that would be helpful to the kid. At such times, Sammy’s reaction was: “Why parents think they always know best!” This happened after she had communicated with her friend Layla (in India) about her unwillingness to ride a bike and not to take dance lessons. In her words, “Just when I thought my life could not get worse, Papa gets me a baby bike and Mamma wants me to go to dance lessons. What a double whammy!” Layla, a true friend, responded “Hang in there girl, tomorrow will be a new day.”
Acting on good advice, and realizing the need for making accommodation to the changed circumstances, Sammy slowly succeeds in making friends including even Julia — the most popular and the prettiest girl in her class! Her sparrow friend is now happy to resign her commission, “My job here is done Sammy. You have found your own wings. Now you can achieve anything you want because you have the confidence from within.”
During the following winter break Sammy and family visit Goa, on tickets Georgy uncle had sent as a gesture of thanks. He is now happily ensconced in his renovated mansion.
The ending statement in the book (in the Afterword) could not have been more appropriate: “Every Sparrow Was Made to Fly!”
The enlistment of a proxy, the sparrow, by Thomas to describe the fear felt by Sammy and how she lost that fear and learnt to fly has been a very good literary tactics.
Sammy’s inner voice is the sparrow who acts through the former’s conscience and thought processes to help her become confident and successful. The sparrow is supported in her mission, independently, by Sammy’s friends — Layla and others in Goa and a number of them in the United States — and, of course, her family.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book which is teen-friendly, imaginative, and inspiring. While full of twists and turns during most of the narrative, it ends in happy outcomes: Sammy, transplanted into the US society, conquers her fears, manages to achieve satisfactory assimilation into the new country chosen by her parents, becomes confident and successful, and helps Uncle Georgy in Goa to keep his historic mansion!
(Har Swarup Singh, PhD, is a former Indian ambassador to Maldives. He also served as an international civil servant, as a member of India’s Planning Commission and as a Governor of Pondicherry. He is also a former president of Haryana State University (India).
(This post has been updated.)
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