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Each month we will be featuring an extract from a recently published book and providing talking points to accompany it. This month’s book group read is the first three chapters of My Dad’s a Birdman by David Almond, illustrated by Polly Dunbar (Walker Books, £8.99 HB, ISBN 9781406304862)

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My Dad's a Birdman book cover

Chapter 1

An ordinary spring morning in 12 Lark Lane. The birds were tweeting and whistling outside. The city traffic rumbled and roared. Lizzie’s alarm went ringadingding. She jumped out of bed, washed her face, scrubbed behind her ears, brushed her teeth, brushed her hair, put on her uniform, went downstairs, filled the kettle, switched it on, put bread in the toaster, set the table with two plates, two mugs, two knives, milk and butter and jam, then she went to the foot of the stairs.

“Dad!” she shouted. “Daddy!”

No answer.

“Dad! Time to get up!”

No answer.

“If you don’t get up now, I’ll come up there and…”

She stepped heavily onto the first step, then onto the second step.

“I’m on me way!” she shouted.

She heard a grunt and a groan, then nothing.

“I’ll count to five. One … two… two and a half… Daddy!”

There was a muffled shout from upstairs.

“Oriyt, Lizzie! Oriyt!”

Illustration of Lizzie's dad

There was a crash and another groan, then there he was, in a scruffy dressing-gown and holey slippers and his hair all wild and his face all hairy.

“Downstairs now,” said Lizzie.

He stumbled down.

“And don’t look at me like that.”

“No, Lizzie.”

She tugged the dressing-gown straight on his shoulders.

“Look at the state of you,” she said. “What on earth have you been doing up there?”

He grinned.

“Been dreaming,” he said.

“Dreaming! What a man. Now sit at the table. Sit up straight.”

“Yes, Lizzie.”

He sat down on the edge of a chair. His eyes were shining and excited. Lizzie poured him a mug of tea.

“Drink this,” she said, and he took a little sip. “And eat that toast.” He nibbled at a corner of the toast. “Eat it properly, Dad.” He took a bigger bite. “And chew it,” she said. He chewed for a moment. “And swallow it, Dad.” He grinned. “Yes, Lizzie.” He took a big bite, chewed, swallowed, and he opened his mouth wide for her to look inside.

“All gone,” he said. “See?”

She clicked her tongue and turned her eyes away. “Don’t be silly, Dad,” she said. Then she smoothed his hair down and brushed it. She straightened the collar of his pyjama jacket. She felt the thick stubble on his chin.

“You’ve got to look after yourself,” she said. “You can’t go on the way you are. Can you?” He shook his head.

“No, Lizzie,” he answered. “Certainly not, Lizzie.”

“I want you to have a shower and a shave today and to get properly dressed.”

“Yes, Lizzie.”

“Good. And what plans have you got for today?”

He sat up straight and looked her in the eye.

“I’m going to fly, Lizzie. Just like a bird.”

Lizzie rolled her eyes.

“Are you now?” she said.

“Yes, I am. And I’m going to enter the competition.”

“Competition? What competition?”

He laughed and leaned forward and held her arm.

“The Great Human Bird Competition, of course! Have you not heard about it? It’s coming to town! I heard about it yesterday. No, the day before yesterday. Or that day a week gone last Tuesday. Anyway, the first one to fly across the River Tyne wins a thousand pounds. And I’m going to enter. It’s true, Lizzie. It’s really true. I’m going to win! I’m going to make me mark at last.”

He stood up and held his arms out straight and flapped them.

“Are me feet off the floor?” he asked. “Are they? Are me feet off the floor?”

He ran and flapped, like he was flying.

“Oh, Dad,” said Lizzie. “Don’t be silly.”

She ran after him. He led her round and round the room. She caught up with him at last, and smoothed his hair down again and straightened his dressing-gown.

“OK,” she said. “Mebbe you are going to fly like a bird, but make sure you get some fresh air and get a good lunch inside you. OK?”

He nodded. “OK, Lizzie,” he said, and then he flapped again and giggled.

“Oh, and Auntie Doreen said she might pop round today.”

That stopped Dad in his tracks. His face crashed.

“Auntie Doreen?” he said.

He twisted his face and sighed.

“Not her again!”

“Yes, her again. She’ll bring you down to earth.”

He stamped his left foot. He stamped his right foot.

“But Lizzie…” he groaned.

“Never mind But Lizzie,” said Lizzie. “Auntie Doreen loves you, just like I do. And she worries about you, just like I do. So be nice to her.”

His shoulders drooped and his arms dangled by his side. Lizzie got her school bag, then kissed his cheek. She smiled gently and shook her head. He was just like a little boy standing there.

Illustration of Lizzie and her dad by Polly Dunbar

“What am I going to do with you?” she said.

“Don’t know, Lizzie,” he muttered.

She hesitated.

“I don’t know if I should leave you on your own.”

He laughed at her.

“Course you should,” he said. “You got to go to school and do your sums and your spellings.”

He was right. She did need to go to school. She liked school. She liked her sums and her spellings and her teachers, and she liked her head teacher, Mr Mint, who had been so kind to her and to her dad.

“All right,” she said. “I’ll go. Now give me a kiss bye-bye.”

He kissed her cheek. They hugged each other. She held her finger up. “Now remember,” she said.

“Yes, Lizzie. I’ll remember. Wash. Shave. Get a good lunch. Get lots of fresh air. And be nice to Auntie D.”

“Good. That’s right.”

“And I’ll remember to fly.”

“Oh, Dad.”

He put his hand to her back and guided her towards the door.

“Go on,” he told her. “You haven’t a thing to worry about. Off you go to your lovely school.”

She opened the door and stepped out into the garden. She peered at him.

“Bye-bye,” he said.

“Bye-bye, Dad.”

She walked away down the garden and through the garden gate and into the street outside. She stood there for a moment, and looked back at him. “Go on,” said Dad. “I’m fine.” She set off walking again. He waved until she was out of sight, then he closed the door. He flapped his arms and started giggling.

“Tweet tweet,” he said. He poked a piece of toast out from under his tongue. He spat it out. “Tweet tweet,” he said. “Tweet tweet, tweet tweet.” Then he saw a fly crawling on the table.

“Yum yum,” he said, and he set off after it.

Chapter 2

The little fly was much too quick for him. It flew up off the table and buzzed around above his head. It hung upside down on the ceiling as he tweeted and puffed and panted and flapped his arms at it.

“I’ll get you, you little devil!” he called. “Come on down and I’ll gobble you up.”

But it didn’t come down, and he didn’t gobble it up. He sat down on the floor getting his breath back. Then he had another thought, and he started crawling about beside the skirting board. He scratched the floorboards with his fingernails and found little black beetles and little brown bugs and funny white creepy things and he scratched them out, picked them up and popped them into his mouth.

Illustration of Lizzie's dad eating a bug

“Yum yum!” he said. “What good’s toast to a man like me? A man like me needs bugs and flies and centipedes.”

He sat there, and smacked his lips and sighed with joy. He stood up and flapped his arms. He stood at the window and stared out at the garden. He didn’t see Lizzie peeping out from behind a tree.

“And a man like me needs worms!” he said. “Look out, little slimy worms! Yum yum! I’ll soon be coming out to get you!”

Then he shut up, and his eyes went all glassy, and he smiled so deeply. “If only she knew,” he whispered to himself. “If only lovely Lizzie knew.” And he reached into his dressing-gown pocket and he took out a key and tiptoed upstairs.

Chapter 3

He tiptoed into his bedroom, tiptoed around his bed, and tiptoed to a cupboard that stood against the wall. He put the key into the lock and turned it and ever so gently, ever so carefully, he pulled open the door. He sighed and smiled with joy.

Illustration of Lizzie's dad unlocking the cupboard to his wings

“Come on out, my beauties,” he said.

He reached inside, and pulled out a pair of home-made wings.

“They’re gorgeous,” he said. He took off his dressing-gown and put them on over his pyjamas. They were made of feathers and string and bits of old shirt and bits of bamboo and wire and thread and cardboard and feathers and feathers and feathers. “They’re just gorgeous! Just wait till my Lizzie sees.”

He stood on tiptoes. He stretched his arms. He closed his eyes. He dreamed of flying like a swallow, like a swift, like a hawk, high above the house. And as he dreamed, someone started calling from outside.

“Entries for the Human Bird Competition! All entries for the Great Human Bird Competition!”

Dad didn’t hear at first, even though the voice was so loud, and even though it echoed through the street and off the walls and off the roofs.

“Just wait till Lizzie sees,” he said again. “She’ll be so proud.”

The voice boomed out again.

“ALL ENTRIES FOR THE HUMAN BIRD COMPETITION!”

“Eh?” grunted Dad. “What’s that? She’ll say, That’s my dad. Isn’t he just a marvellous dad?”

The voice boomed out again.

“ALL ENTRIES FOR THE GREAT HUMAN BIRD COMPETITION!”

He ran to the window. There was a little chubby man outside the garden gate. He was carrying a clipboard. He held a megaphone to his mouth.

“ALL ENTRIES FOR THE—”

Dad shoved the window open. “Aye!” he yelled. He waved his arms at the little chubby man. “Me, mister! ME!”

And the man stopped calling, and he looked up at the window.

“YOU?” he boomed.

“Aye! Me! Just wait, mister!”

Dad rushed downstairs. He flung the front door open and yelled again.

“ME! ME! ME!”

The little chubby man lowered the megaphone.

He stepped through the gate and came through the garden with his clipboard under his arm. He stepped through the open door and he came into the kitchen. He put his megaphone on the kitchen table. He raised his clipboard. He licked his pencil and looked at Dad. Dad trembled. His wings shivered with excitement. He could hardly breathe.

“So,” said the little chubby man. “You wish to enter the Great Human Bird Competition.”

“Aye,” said Dad. “I mean, yes please, mister.”

“My name,” said the man, “is Mr Poop.”

“Yes please, Mr Poop, sir,” said Dad.

Mr Poop gazed at Dad, at his wings, at the room. He licked his pencil again. He held it over a form attached to the clipboard.

“Name?” he asked.

“Jackie,” answered Dad.

“Jackie what?”

Dad blinked. He wondered about it. He tried to remember. Then he answered, “My name is Jackie …Crow.”

Talking points

Use these questions to structure your book group session:

  • Does the story remind you of anything?
  • Are there any questions you would like to ask about the extract?
  • Are there any questions you would like to ask the author?
  • Are there any questions you would like to ask Lizzie or her dad?
  • What do you think of the extract?
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • What do you think of Lizzie’s relationship with her dad?
  • Who seems like the parent and who seems like the child?
  • What part of Britain do you think the story might be set in? What clues are there to help you decide?
  • Would you like to enter the Great Human Bird Competition?
  • Do you think Lizzie’s dad will be able to fly with his wings?
  • Do you think eating flies and bugs will help Lizzie’s dad become more bird-like?
  • Do you think Lizzie’s dad is really called Jackie Crow?

“Are you sure?” said Mr Poop.

“Aye!” said Dad. “I mean yes sir, Mr Poop.”

Mr Poop wrote on his clipboard, and as he wrote he murmured, “Jack-ie C-row. Occupation?”

Dad blinked again, and wondered again, and tried to remember.

“Mr Crow,” insisted Mr Poop. “What is your occupation? What job do you do?”

“I’m a birdman!” snapped Dad. “Yes. I’m a birdman. I think I used to do something else, but now I can’t quite remember what it was. I’m a birdman!”

Mr Poop licked his pencil. “Bird-man,” he muttered as he wrote. “And what is your method of propulsion?”

Dad goggled at him. Method of propulsion? What did the man mean, method of propulsion?

“Eh?” he grunted.

“What is your method of propulsion, Mr Crow,” said Mr Poop. “How are you going to fly?”

And Dad understood, and shook his shoulders and flapped his wings towards the ceiling.

“Why, with me wings, of course,” he said. “Aren’t they lovely, Mr Poop?” He flapped his wings faster. He ran around the room.

“Don’t you think they’re wonderful?”

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