Deborah Wiles

Each Little Bird That Sings

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Each Little Bird That Sings Summary

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The award-winning novel Each Little Bird That Sings (2005) is the rare example of fiction for young readers that tackles a difficult and even taboo topic with humor, grace, and without flinching. Written by acclaimed author Deborah Wiles, the novel combines the tear-jerker and coming of age modes to tell the story of a preteen growing up in a family that runs a funeral parlor. Surrounded by death, she finds the topic mundane and non-threatening – but must navigate coming to terms with the feelings of loss that accompany death when an accident hits close to home.

Ten-year-old Comfort Snowberger lives in the fictional small town of Snapfinger, Mississippi, with her mother and father, her older brother, Tidings, her little sister, Merry, her beloved Great-Uncle Edisto and Great-Great-Aunt Florentine, her black Labrador, Dismay, and her annoying younger cousin, Peach. Also in the mix is the best friend Comfort has had from the age of four: Declaration Johnson, who lives nearby.

Because the Snowberger family owns and runs a funeral home, Comfort has lived alongside the natural processes of death and mourning all of her life. Not only has she already, by her count, attended 247 funerals, she has also helped to bake the casseroles for the guests and has even written her own version of the newspaper’s obituary column, “Life Notices by Comfort Snowberger: Explorer, Recipe Tester, and Funeral Reporter.” Although they must appear somber while working, her family is generally upbeat, favoring a gallows-humor approach to the topic of dying.

However, suddenly, death strikes close to home. On a day the Snowbergers plan to go for a picnic, the elderly Great-Uncle Edisto dies. It is a terrible loss for Comfort, who was particularly close to Edisto. To make matters worse, a few weeks later, Great-Great-Aunt Florentine dies peacefully while gardening her lavender bushes. Now, the funeral home is bustling with preparations that aren’t simply business as usual, and the family is trying to cope with the emotional side of losing beloved family members.

In the midst of this, Declaration decides that she no longer wants to be Comfort’s friend. Comfort, a tomboyish girl, does not share Declaration’s newfound interests in clothes and other aspects of growing up. Ignoring her best friend of six years, Declaration, instead, tries to befriend two cooler girls at school.

Finally, the day of the funeral arrives. Comfort is tasked with taking care of Peach, her eight-year-old cousin, who is not coping at all well with the idea of going to a cemetery. To Comfort, his behavior is babyish; she is deeply annoyed that she has to not only grieve Edisto and Florentine, but also cater to Peach’s unreasonable demands. Overwhelmed, confused, and hurt, what she would most like to do is crawl into a closet and cuddle up with Dismay.

Declaration has been invited to the funeral, and as she, Comfort, and Peach approach the cemetery, Declaration decides that she has had enough of Peach’s whining. Taunting him about going to a dead place where they put dirt over dead people, Declaration doesn’t let up until Peach takes off, running towards the nearby lake. By the time Comfort and Dismay catch up with him, the weather has turned stormy, and the lake experiences a rare flash flood event.

As the water rises higher and higher around them, turning the lake into a river that is threatening to wash them away, Comfort quickly realizes that they must climb up into a nearby oak tree. She and Peach make it, but Dismay is too big to climb high enough to stay above the water level. Trying to save Dismay, Peach holds on to the dog’s collar and quickly ends up under water himself. Thinking fast, Comfort pries her cousin’s fingers off Dismay’s collar, leaving the dog to float down the stream alone. It’s a devastating decision, but one that no doubt saves Peach’s life.

After the storm subsides somewhat, the two children are rescued from the tree by Comfort and Declaration’s fathers. The Snowbergers are shaken by how close to death their daughter came.

Dismay is nowhere to be found, and it is not clear whether the dog survived. Distraught, Comfort blames herself for what happened to Dismay so much that she can’t bring herself to go looking for the dog with the search party her family organizes. Comfort is also furious at Declaration – if she hadn’t picked a fight with Peach at the cemetery, they wouldn’t have ended up in the middle of the flood in the first place. At the same time, the experiences that Peach and Comfort have shared, including the loss of Dismay, bring them closer together.

Eventually, Declaration finds Dismay’s dog collar near a drainage ditch near Lake Tallyhoma. The implication is that Dismay is, indeed, dead. The whole town of Snapfinger comes out to a memorial service for the dog. At the service, Declaration realizes just how much she has let Comfort down. She apologizes and the girls agree to try being friends again. The book ends as Declaration finally decides to be nice to Peach, playing marbles with him.