The largest passenger pigeon nesting on record happened in South Central Wisconsin in 1871. Millions of birds spanned an area of at least 850 square miles. Amy Timberlake’s novel sets a compelling human tale against this fascinating history of the natural world. Thirteen-year-old Georgie lives in a small Wisconsin town in the nesting area. She likes working in the family store and likes being known as the best shot in town. Georgie’s older sister, Agatha, longs to attend college at the university in Madison. Weeks before Agatha ran away with a group of pigeoners—people who follow the pigeons for economic opportunity. Now, the badly decomposed body of a young woman has been found in the woods outside a neighboring town. The dress on the body is Agatha’s. So, too, is the color of the woman’s hair. Georgie refuses to believe Agatha is dead, and flashbacks reveal their sometimes prickly but deeply loving bond. Determined to find Agatha, Georgie runs away on a borrowed mule (she wanted a horse) and reluctantly accepts the company of Billy McCabe, Agatha’s former suitor. Georgie’s fresh, lively, and surprisingly funny voice propels a narrative rich with language and metaphors suited to the setting and the time period. Nothing is predictable, from Georgie’s relationship with Billy McCabe to what the two of them discover in a tale about women and girls and decency and deceit that is full of humor and tenderness. Timberlake provides more information about her research, the nesting, and the tragedy of the now extinct passenger pigeon in an author’s note. (MS) ©2013 Cooperative Children’s Book Center
1. How do the setting and time period of this book (frontier town in Wisconsin, 1871) influence Georgie’s first-person voice? How does Georgie defy traditional expectations for women’s roles in 19th century Wisconsin?
2. Which events in Georgie’s journey change her willingness to kill? Why do you think Georgie had a change of heart about shooting animals?
3. Georgie’s grandfather pays Billy to secretly take Georgie to Dog’s Hollow. Why does he do this, instead of encouraging Georgie to look directly for Agatha?