The Big Bad Books series is designed to forewarn children to the recruitment and control schemes exploited by human traffickers. Using fables and age-appropriate language, the aim of these books is to socialize kids with the reality that most crime is committed by acquaintances or people we know, who attempt to gain our trust using coercion, deception, and fraud, and less often by strangers and through kidnapping.
Big Bad and the Bored Canary tells the story of a young bird named Nicolette, who lived a fortunate life in Kiev, Ukraine with her parents, but dreamed of adventure and traveling the world. One day a wolf, disguised as a bird, offers her an opportunity to go to the United States. Upon arriving in America, Nicolette is shocked to learn she had been deceived and is forced to work in a factory.
This book is loosely based on the case of United States v. Aleksandr Maksimenko. Maksimenko was a ringleader in a conspiracy to force Eastern European women to work in the United States. Under the guise of legitimate business, Maksimenko lured women from Ukraine and Russia into the United States and forced them to work and turn over the entirety of their earnings.
Criminologist Mehlman-Orozco, who chronicled real-life trafficking cases in Hidden in Plain Sight: America’s Slaves of the New Millennium, uses Ana Rodic’s exquisite illustrations to make this bleak subject approachable at story time. Rodic combines expressive pen and ink drawings with color washes that range from soft Frankenthaler smears to the hard brilliance of oxidized metal. She renders golden canary Nicolette with her avian friends as a joyous fledgling eager to leave the nest, which emphasizes the tragedy of having her wings clipped.
Mehlman-Orozco effectively employs a familiar villain in the duplicitous wolf and cleverly--chillingly—includes the words of actual traffickers in the text, such as the wolf’s vow to “feed her ears exactly what she wants to hear.” While the message comes through powerfully, Mehlman-Orozco proves less successful at crafting a memorable contemporary fable. The upbeat rhyming never quite meshes with the lessons the story has been crafted to impart, and some awkward sentence constructions make reading aloud at times a minor challenge. Still, parents will find this a valuable resource for opening discussions about the uncomfortable topic of how predators manipulate children. Learning who to trust is a lifelong process, and Big Bad and the Bored Canary introduces young readers to the insidious danger of wolves cloaked as fairy godmothers, preying on the dreams of their victims.
Takeaway: Gorgeously illustrated, this cautionary bird tale aims to warn young readers from the allure of human traffickers.
Great for fans of: Brodrick Nettles’s A Free Me: How Taylor Escaped Becoming a Victim of Human Trafficking, Jacqueline A. Bartley’s Ice-Cream Saturdays.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: B+