Book review: Learning to fly in Once Upon A Time A Sparrow

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Have you ever looked up to see one little bird flying out of sync from the rest of her flock? Have you ever wondered why she is falling behind? And if she will find her way back?

Psychologist and author Mary Avery Kabrich explores a similar question in her novel Once Upon A Time A Sparrow, but as it relates to children with dyslexia. Kabrich wants to know, and more importantly, wants the world to know, “why some children learn to read effortlessly as a bird learns to fly, while others flap their wings until they almost break, and still end up in a nosedive.”

In Kabrich’s award-winning novel, the “sparrow” is a nine-year old girl named Maddie — a bright, dyslexic spark who is diagnosed as minimally brain damaged.

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It’s 1967, and Maddie is stuck in the “sparrow” group (for slow readers) at school. She is pulled out of her favourite class for special reading instruction, which is taught in a storage closet, no less. Her teacher, Mrs. Zinc, discourages her from pursuing her dreams: “if you can’t read, you can’t write.” She is publicly humiliated by her know-it-all classmate Paulette. Her loving parents worry over her, but don’t know how to help. But there is much good to balance the bad: she finds support from a special education teacher named Ms. Ellen and strength in family, spirituality and her own imagination.

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