The inspiration behind Bird Boy - a blog by Catherine Bruton - Nosy Crow Skip to content
Posted on May 23, 2024

The inspiration behind Bird Boy – a blog by Catherine Bruton

This month we were absolutely delighted to have published Bird Boy – a story of migration, conservation, healing and hope written by author Catherine Bruton. Today we are very excited to be sharing a blog from Catherine, herself, about her inspiration behind the book and the discussion of mental health that is prominent throughout the story.  

“Tell them stories and let them tell their stories. Through stories they can start to heal.”

That was the advice from a Trauma Informed Schools UK training session I attended in 2021. As well as being a writer, I am also a teacher. In my three decades at the chalkface, the exponential rise in mental health issues –affecting children of all ages and backgrounds –  has been heartbreaking to witness. As a children’s author, I believe I have a responsibility to help. Because stories can and do help. Narratives which help  children frame or express difficult experiences and make sense of them allow an outlet for trauma. Through stories, children begin to heal.

And so I came to this story – about a boy who has been cut off from the world and finds it hard to readjust. A boy who is sent to the middle of nowhere to live with an uncle he didn’t even know existed. A story about the healing power of nature. Bird Boy was first inspired by a friend who works with Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, using nature therapy  to support traumatised children, including young refugees and asylum seekers. Because research shows that engagement with nature, which includes reading stories about nature, generates calmness, joy, creativity and aids concentration.

Human-animal relationships can also play a key role in children’s lives and in promoting happiness. I have always loved animal stories: Watership Down, Charlotte’s Web, A Kestrel for a Knave, One Hundred and One Dalmations, The Last Bear, When the Sky Falls, Brock, Sky Hawk  ….glorious, beautiful books that made me laugh and cry and which left fossil prints on my heart. Research suggests that stories exploring the special child-creature bond can help young people develop empathy, make emotional connections, understand their own emotions, cope with difficult experiences and make sense of the world.

But why write a book about an osprey? Well, in 2020 I stumbled across the livestream of a Welsh osprey nest. This was the early days of the pandemic. I was stuck in my house, feeling trapped, but that day I sat transfixed watching an osprey egg hatch – and my heart soared. Over the coming months I watched the chicks grow and fledge. When Autumn came, I watched the fledglings finally take the skies and migrate.

That was the magic I wanted to capture in Bird Boy – a story about empty nests and learning to take flight. But a story also about conservation, the importance of caring for the natural world, for protecting endangered species, and learning from nature. How this care is essential for our planet’s continuing health and for our own.

I first read Barry Hines’ A Kestrel for a Knave when I was twelve and cried buckets. I was angry at the ending – it felt so cruelly unfair and wrong.  But there is a beauty in that devastating conclusion which has stayed with me and left an indelible mark on my soul. Because it is an ending which leaves you wanting to change the world – as all the best stories do.

Bird Boy has a more hopeful conclusion. But when they turn the last page, I hope readers might want to change the world too. Because it’s not only birds who migrate. This is also a story about migration. Displacement. Starting again. Losing your home and finding a new one. For Will and for Omar –  a young refugee boy who has fled from Afghanistan  – and for Whitetip. Each of them has been displaced for different reasons, each must learn to adjust to a new environment, each has scars that may never properly heal, each needs to find a new kind of family. And all three help each other.

It has been my privilege to teach refugee children from all over the world – children fleeing conflict in Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine… Children displaced from their homes, learning to start again, trying to make sense of the past and to build new futures. My book No Ballet Shoes in Syria was written for those children and the millions like them across the world. The letters and messages I have received from young refugees and asylum seekers who have read it reinforces my conviction that stories really do have the power to heal.

Bird Boy was not an easy story to write, but it is one I am immensely proud of and which I hope will touch many hearts. I like to think it’s a combination of Good Night, Mr Tom and A Kestrel for a Knave  – two of my favourite childhood stories –  and  Gill Lewis’ Sky Hawk – my (now very grown up) son’s favourite bedtime tale. The book I’m currently writing (working title Tadpoles!)  tells of a grieving girl, a sick boy and the kid next door who hasn’t been to school for months. Together they find adventure in the tiny plot of grass just outside their window and learn to find the beauty and escape in the smallest natural spaces.  Like Bird Boy, it’s a tale of the healing power of nature, of friendship … and of stories. I hope readers will love both these books as much as I have treasured the writing of them!

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