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The Flight of the Cliff Bird
Class set order code: 4939S
Cliff Bird’s father left their Puebloan village on the mesa six harvests ago, and Cliff Bird has been waiting for his return ever since. But the land is thirsty, and strangers lurk, and the people talk of leaving. Cliff Bird worries. How would her father find her? As she battles her fears, she dreams of his return and of finding belonging again among her people. This is a beautiful story of love, loss, and redemption.
Cliff Bird’s father left their Puebloan village under the cap rock of the canyon on a trading journey six harvests ago, and Cliff Bird has been waiting for his return ever since. During that time, her mother has died, and the girl, now barely thirteen summers old, is left in the care of relatives who see her more as a burden than anything else. But Cliff Bird has gifts to offer: she’s skilled at pottery and basket weaving, and she can run like the wind. And someday her father will return to make her life complete. Someday, too, she will perform a great good deed that will earn her the love and respect of her people.
But her people have bigger concerns: they are struggling. A lack of rain haunts the mesa, and the crops are parched beneath the high desert sky. Strangers have been seen lurking nearby, and fears of raiders attacking the village have grown. Perhaps it’s time to abandon the cliff dwellings and travel south to a place that is more sustainable. Cliff Bird can’t imagine leaving her home on the mesa. And what happens if her father returns to find an empty village? How will she ever reunite with him? She can’t possibly go, even if the rest of her people do.
As if these concerns aren’t enough to weigh upon a girl so young, there is also the daily battle that Cliff Bird must fight against her cousin. Why does Summer Sky hate her so? At every opportunity, the girls clash, saying hurtful things to each other, performing hurtful acts, widening the chasm between them. However, this story is told in a double narrative, and we hear Summer Sky echo Cliff Bird’s frustration and bewilderment and disappointment at the ongoing rift that refuses to mend, no matter the girls’ efforts.
This view of the conflict from both sides offers a revealing look at how easy it can be to hurt others, even unintentionally, fueling in us as readers an overwhelming desire to practice empathy and compassion, to consider perspectives outside of our own as we go about our daily lives. Both Cliff Bird and Summer Sky learn valuable lessons about themselves and each other by the end of the novel.
The Flight of the Cliff Bird is a captivatingly beautiful story of love and loss, of effort and struggle and redemption, shimmering against the warm sandstone of the cliff dwellings—”halfway between earth and sky”—of the Long-Ago People.
Author Leslie J. Wyatt says:
“Ever since I gazed across the canyon to the ancient homes nestled beneath the cap rock, the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, Colorado, have captured my heart and my imagination. As a child, I wanted to live there under the wide sky, to sit for long hours with my back against the warmth of the sandstone, to be one small being in the greatness of the canyon. Writing Cliff Bird’s story was an unfolding of that dream.
“The Hisatsinom—The Long-Ago People—never returned to farm the high green mesa where the sky was wide and blue or to live in their well-crafted dwellings under the canyon rims. Yet over the centuries, and still to this day, their descendants come back to Mesa Verde to visit the sacred sites and to pay homage to those who came before, for in this place their roots run deep.”