Based on an actual story, a girl with cerebral palsy feels trapped in her body and unable to communicate. It causes her to grunt in anger, scaring off children and making it impossible to make friends. When her art teacher straps a paintbrush to her head, the children nickname her “Woodpecker Girl.” But the girl begins to paint her thoughts and feelings and her talent bursts through. Illustrator Huang mimicked the girl’s style for the book and the girl’s real paintings are displayed in the backmatter.
PreS-Gr 4–In simple language, Yipei Huang, a young girl in a ghostly white wheelchair, explains how her cerebral palsy may have originated, spends quiet days watching others run around playing, sees her sister romp with their puppy, and wonders what it might be like if she could sing. The authors never dip into pathos, but give the story strength with a matter-of-fact approach. In illustrations that have the look of gouache dreamscapes, readers will observe a woodpecker who soars through every frame, a white bunny, and the solitary days of our heroine. An art teacher, observing the movements of her head, fits her with a band and a brush she can dip into colors and dot onto pages, and then the narrator soars, too. It is exhausting to create in this manner, she tells us, but it is what she loves, and it makes her forget everything else. Only in the back matter do we learn that Yipei Huang’s story is true and that her classmates named her “Woodpecker Girl” after watching her work. The illustrations incorporate Yipei’s own pieces, and it should surprise no one if the children who come across this book want to try being woodpeckers themselves. VERDICT The art-filled lesson that “an imperfect body can also lead to a perfect life” excludes no one from its net. A wistful, wondrous work.