Review: Bird Brain

Bird Brain

by Joanne Levy

Orca, 2024

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Sarah Aronson

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If you love smart kids with unusual pets, you are going to rip through Joanne Levy’s Bird Brain. This middle grade novel is about bullying, science and scientific research, and a really great family.

When the book begins, Arden Sachs wants a dog or a cat. She wants to make the STEM team, win the competition, and go to STEM camp with her best friend, Cabbage. Standing in her way is mean Marni Olsen, who has never been kind to Arden. When her cool, popular boyfriend compliments Arden and gets interested in auditioning for the STEM team, the bullying gets worse.

Levy deals with bullying and the actions kids, families, and schools must take when bullying takes place. And she does this in an honest voice—without sacrificing humor and heart. Throughout the novel, the reader wants Arden to stand up to Marni. We understand and groan when she messes up on purpose at the STEM team tryouts, to avoid Marni's threats of violence. And we cheer for her when she does what we all must do in real life: speak up. And be honest. With Cabbage. Her family. And the school.

Don’t worry: Although this book is about bullying, it is never didactic! It’s not a typically paced problem novel. The truth is, I couldn’t put it down. I turned pages quickly. I couldn’t wait to see if Arden would stand up to Marni. Even more, I couldn’t wait to see what was up with Ludwig, the parrot that Uncle Eli entrusts Arden to care for.

That bird steals the show! When Ludwig starts talking in ways that feel purposeful and unprecedented, Arden has to do some really good research and discovery to understand what’s up. Young readers are going to love unraveling this mystery.

While Arden's Jewish identity is only mentioned casually (she is one year away from her bat mitzvah), this book speaks to Jewish values like friendship, honesty, kindness, curiosity, and the big one in my family: academic excellence! Arden and Cabbage are more than likeable—they read like friends. I know that I will be passing this book to the young readers I know. Excellent note from the author at the end.

Highly recommended!

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Reviewer Sarah Aronson's books include Just Like Rube Goldberg, illustrated by Robert Neubecker, Brand New Bubbe, illustrated by Ariel Landy. She is ready to raise the roof for her next book, a picture book biography of her childhood hero, Abzuglutely: Battling Bellowing Bella Abzug, illustrated by Andrea d'Aquino (Calkins Creek: Astra Books for Young Readers). Get your copy of the biography of the trailblazing feminist this October--with a hat or without!