The Theory of Hummingbirds, by Michelle Kadarusman
This beautifully crafted #ownvoices novel follows the story of Alba, who is in fourth grade at school, and wants nothing more than to compete in her first cross-country race. For most kids this doesn’t sound like anything out of the ordinary – but for Alba it’s a big deal. She was born with her left foot (which she calls Cleo) twisted in the wrong direction, which has meant Cleo being strapped in a brace for most of Alba’s life. As Alba awaits her final cast to come off, she feels a sudden longing to run in the upcoming cross-country race – just like the sporty confident Miranda Gray.
Alba wishes for support from her best friend Levi, whose asthma sidelines him from sports a lot of the time, and who helps Alba shelve library books instead. But science-obsessed Levi is preoccupied with trying to unravel the mystery of why Miss Sharma, the school librarian, mysteriously disappears from her office at lunch time. Is she disappearing into a wormhole? To Levi, it seems the only logical explanation!
Alba is upset by the look of disbelief on Levi’s face when she confides in him about wanting to run in the cross-country race. Her feelings of hurt create a new barrier between Levi and herself. The bond that has previously held the two together starts to waver, as they both begin to diverge towards their own interests and longings. How can they find a way to overcome their differences and join forces, so they can support each other? And will Alba realise her dream of running in the cross country race?
This novel celebrates diversity, kindness and friendship. The writing is spare and emotive – at times beautifully poetic.
I love how facts about hummingbirds are integrated seamlessly throughout the narrative, providing a sweet metaphor for Alba’s own life and experiences. Hummingbirds have their own unique strengths and abilities – while they are unable to walk, they can see and hear better than humans, and can fly for thousands of kilometres despite being so tiny.
With my librarian background, I especially love the aura of mystery and intrigue involving the school librarian. Is she time travelling to a wormhole when her office goes dark at lunchtimes? Is the fact that she gave Levi a book about wormholes a sign? I love that the librarian in a kids book gets her time to shine!
I also love the way the importance of books is highlighted in this story – Levi has learnt a lot about science from reading ‘A Brief History of Time,’ along with Albert Einstein’s theories and various science fiction books. This story illuminates the ways in which we can learn from both fiction and non-fiction, and apply what we have learnt to our own lives. Through Alba and Levi, we are shown how reading sparks curiosity and creativity and allows us to explore the power of our imagination.
This book doesn’t provide easy answers, but rather illuminates the importance of being true to yourself, and striving to do the best you can. The book also shines a light on the power of friendship and working together to achieve your goals. Alba discovers that her support networks make her stronger.
Young readers are also gently shown how embracing and accepting our own and each other’s differences can ultimately be empowering.