One day, when Warren is out bird-watching, he comes across a little bird unlike any in his bird book. This bird looked as much like a little girl as she did a bird—a little girl with wings for arms. Warren brought the creature home to his wife Tina, and they decided to keep her and raise her as their daughter. And so begins the series of curious adventures in child-rearing that make up Dutch author Joke van Leeuwen’s Eep!, a charming children’s book just translated into English.
It doesn’t take long for Warren and Tina to learn that taking care of a bird-girl is very different from raising a human child. First of all, there’s the matter of her wings, which Warren and Tina agree must be hidden, lest their neighbors gossip or try to take her away. When the girl, whom they call Beedy, starts learning to feed herself, the wings prove to be completely useless for holding spoons. And Beedy’s efforts at human speech are limited by her inability to make vowel sounds that aren’t eee. But Warren and Tina are adaptable parents, finding creative ways to get around all of these difficulties. Eventually, however, Beedy’s natural instincts lead her and her parents to a whole new set of adventures that they never planned for.
Eep! is a wonderfully weird story filled with random bits of whimsy, just the kind of thing I like in a children’s book. The story itself is sweet without being cloying. In fact, it turns rather dark at a couple of points. And there are lots of clever little digressions in which van Leeuwen riffs on the characters’ dreams and memories, often accompanying those riffs with line drawings that give their imaginings literal form.
For instance, when Jill watches a television program about horrible illnesses, which causes Jill to forget that she’s perfectly healthy, we see pictures of the shocking spots, awful wrinkles, and horrendous headaches on the program. Or there’s this observation:
Sweet treats were comforting. Of course, a pat on the head could be comforting as well. Perhaps a pat on the head with a sweet treat would be doubly comforting, but people didn’t usually combine the two.
The book is something of a fable about family and friendship the ways people have to learn to adapt to each other and to let go when the time comes. But it manages to be about these things without coming across as preachy. In fact, I think there are multiple ways to read certain aspects of the story, such as Warren and Jill’s differing attitudes toward whether Beedy is a bird or a baby. And it’s entirely possible to just enjoy it as an amusing flight of fancy, which it certainly is.