Book #3: Gay-Neck, the Story of a Pigeon

This book is just that: the story of a pigeon named Gay-Neck. He lives in India with his owner at the beginning of the First World War. Dhan Gopal Mukerji won the Newbery Award for this book in 1928.


Suffice to say I was not looking forward to reading this one. I had just finished Smoky, the Cowhorse and was definitely ready for something other than an animal book. But alas, the list continues on without any notice of my personal preferences. So I read on.


I was rewarded for my persistence by discovering a lovely book! I often mutter about how I don’t like Nathaniel Hawthorne: his stories are fascinating, but it is always a shame he had to be the one to write them. I found this book had the opposite problem: I really didn’t care what happened to Gay-Neck one way or the other, but the story was beautifully written. Children’s literature was quite different in 1928 and this book was an interesting example of that.


Dhan Gopal Mukerji uses fabulous words such as “truancy,” “cerise,” “smelt,” and “paroxysm.” He employs a fascinating narrative structure: the narrator for most of the book is the boy who owns Gay-Neck, but often he will tell the reader that Gay-Neck needs to tell how it happened in his own words. And off the story goes, told by the pigeon himself.


The latter part of the book details Gay-Neck’s adventures as a carrier pigeon in World War I. Never did I think I would be interested in pigeons at various points in history, but now I find myself wondering: did they shoot at the enemies’ carrier pigeons to stop the messages from getting to their destination? The descriptions of the planes and other instruments of war by the pigeon are well-written and intriguing.


I’ll stop trying to analyze the story (bad graduate school habit…) and share a few of my favorite quotes with you.

“There was no doubt that the silence of the night was more than mere stillness; stillness is empty, but the silence that beset us was full of meaning, as if a God, shod with moonlight, was walking so close that if I were to put out my hand I could touch his garment.” (pg. 71)

“Farewell! I go where the woods wear stillness for a dress, the air is free of odours and dust, and the sky, a hollowed turquoise, is not cross-cut and pierced with poles and telegraph wires.” (pg. 98)

“Let us again use the grammar of fancy and the dictionary of imagination.” (pg. 102)

I read the 1968 edition published by E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. It was illustrated by Boris Artzybasheff: his illustrations were a beautiful combination of patterns and pictures that illustrated the story perfectly, as you have seen throughout this post. The following two pictures are less happy, but no less beautiful.

IMG_0652For those of us keeping track, that’s 7 Newbery books down, 84 to go. I’m thinking this is going to be a long term project…

But as for my Fall goals:
5 2 books, 4 2 recipes, 3 movies, 2 1 projects, 1 adventure.

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