The Girl With the Parrot on Her Head

Daisy Hirst's picture book about friendship, loneliness and self-reliance is shot through with delightful absurdity and illustrated with enormous wit.

The girl with the parrot on her head has a good life, thanks to her good friend Simon, a fantastic playmate who is also good with newts. But when Simon's family moves away, the girl is shattered, and has to learn to play on her own. She develops a system for putting her playthings away, including a box of wolves, a box of broken umbrellas, and a box of darkness.

But the biggest wolf doesn't quite fit in the wolf box, and she's worried he'll get out, which is why she is so excited to find a huge box on the kerb. When she tries to take it home, she discovers that it has a kid inside it — another friend who helps her turn the box into a spaceship and to turn the broken umbrellas into satellites that they use to decorate her room to play new, epic make-believe games.

I bought this over the weekend at the East London Comic Arts Fair and read it to two seven-year-olds, my daughter and my nephew. I could tell straightaway that this was a winner. Both kids — who are starting to age out of picture books and into chapter books — were totally taken with it, thanks in no small part to the enormous energy, movement and narrative drive from the deceptively simple artwork.

The storyline is a gorgeous combination of straightahead allegory (girl loses friend, learns to cope, finds new friend) and purest pinkwaterian nonsense — why does she have a parrot on her head? What's the deal with the wolves? It's such a winning combo!

We're about to move from London to Los Angeles, and while our daughter is enormously excited about the prospect, she's also very trepidations about leaving her friends behind. I could really see her using this book to help her with her fear.

There isn't much by way of US distribution (here's a couple used copies), but I'm willing to bet you can get 'em from online UK booksellers.

The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head [Daisy Hirst/Walker Books]