Two Crows: words by Susan Vande Griek, art by Emma FitzGerald

One corbie, two corbies
Two black crows
Perch in the grey
Of a November-tree day.

In her new picture book, Two Crows, Susan Vande Griek reimagines the haunting Scottish Gaelic ballad Twa Corbies as a read-aloud counting book for children (and adults) of all ages. It will capture the imagination of not only young children learning to count but anyone—young or old—fascinated with the wild and wily behaviour of the all-too-common crow.

Written in spare and elegant verse with subtle rhymes, sonic tricks, and unexpected turn-of-phrases, the book is a joy to read aloud.

Twenty crow feet
Ten crow behinds
Bouncing, tottering
While speaking their minds.

The story takes place on a grey day in November. A child and dog go for a walk through the wooded landscape and observe the wild and noisy crows’ almost-human behaviour as they bicker and squawk,chatter and talk, while jabbering with a jay, squabbling with a squirrel, and howling at a hound.

The beautiful and moody drawings by award-winning illustrator Emma FitzGerald evoke the musicality and spirit of the original Gaelic folksong that inspired this book. The first interior illustration of two crows perched in a bare tree is simple and stark, with minimal washes of colour. And as the crows increase in number and the squabbling and crackling escalates, the illustrations become more animated, and the colours more charged, moving from gentle grays and soft pinks to blues and grays, and ultimately indigos and shiny gold. The illustrations also signal the unfolding of time as the colours of the sky morph from page to page and a golden full moon emerges for the final pages of the story.

The illustrations give the readers much to engage with—there are crows to count on the left-hand text pages (and each bird is subtly different) and beautiful full-size story panels on each right-hand page. The illustrations take several perspectives —including the child’s viewpoint, the crows’ view from the treetops, and the sweet little dog’s view looking upward. There is also a secondary story about the child and dog (a nod to the original folk song) tucked away in the last three-story panels.    

The original ballad that inspired this book tells the story of three scavenger birds conversing about where and what they should eat (the ballad takes a much darker turn) and this theme is echoed throughout the storyline of Two Crows.

Two spread wings
To coast the fields
Hungry ones looking
For a late-day meal.
***
Two take to the air
To hunt the roads
Looking for something
To grab as their own.

The second theme that the ballad and book share is the fragility of life and how crows instinctively seek out each other’s company to protect themselves from their enemies.

Caws crackle
In the cold, far and free
Calling others
To that barren tree.
***
Caws rise and fall
Set up a moan
Reaching out to others
Who are on their own.

After much action of birds arriving at the tree, and then flying away (while readers count up to ten, and then back down again), the book ends on a wistful note—

So the two are left
In the tree of grey
That stands in the cold
Of this November day.
I look up—
Twa corbies, so
Two lonely, cawing
Big black crows.

This is Vande Griek’s fourth children’s book about birds. Unlike the other three books, Two Crows takes a decidedly literary approach to describe the behaviour of the common carrion crow and lets the poetic language and magical illustrations tell the story of these intelligent creatures. Two Crows is just as much a study of words, as it is a study of birds.


Susan Vande Griek started writing for children after she had four of her own. She has written three other award-winning children’s books on birds—Loon and Owl at Sea published by Groundworks Books, and Hawks Kettle, Puffins Wheel published by Kids Can Press. Susan currently lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Emma FitzGerald is an author and illustrator. She wrote and illustrated Hand Drawn Halifax, Sketch by Sketch Along Nova Scotia’s South Shore, Hand Drawn Vancouver, and the upcoming Hand Drawn Victoria. Emma’s children’s book illustrations include EveryBody’s Different on EveryBody Street by Sheree Fitch, A Pocket of Time: The Poetic Childhood of Elizabeth Bishop by Rita Wilson, and City Streets are for People by Andrea Curtis. Emma makes her home in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Nimbus Publishing Limited (Oct. 18 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 24 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1774711028
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1774711026

Catherine Walker (she/her) is an instructional designer and writer/editor living on the South Shore of Miꞌkmaꞌki (Nova Scotia). A founding member of Lunenburg's Little Books Collective, Catherine also walks down the street every second Thursday for Spot of Poetry Get Togethers. Whoever said poetry was a solitary pursuit?