Illustrations are almost everything in Cindy Helms’ picture book about a bird who finds himself on the “Outside” of things, looking for his friends. While the bird wonders, “Where is everyone today?” readers see that bird’s friends are crowded “Inside” a whimsical, mound-shaped home. The fun comes in wondering what they are up to as they hide in the darkened domicile.
Helms effectively employs alternating words and images and just a few sentences to convey the concept of “Outside” and “Inside” and to build youngsters’ anticipation as the pages are turned. Quirky, whimsical and colorful illustrations add real appeal to the production. Bold and large wording (sometimes just a few words fill an entire page) is bound to lead adult readers to add emphasis in reading aloud, just where such emphasis would be most effective and fun.
Less obvious guidance is given as to what to call the bird. Only on the back cover is his name – Birdie – and gender made clear. Here, too, the author indicates that she sees this as “a story about friendship and the joy of giving” and, while she does show that the friends have been creating a surprise party with a cake and gifts for Birdie, the bird’s perplexed quest and the contrasting of “Outside” and “Inside” as concepts for tots are at least as important and memorable as the party.
Overall, this upbeat, appealingly illustrated production is an ideal book for adults and preschoolers to enjoy together at home, in preschool, playgroups or during library storytimes. With its surprise party plot element, it also makes an excellent birthday gift.