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Top 100 Children’s Novels #71: Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles

#71 Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles (2005)
28 points

“I come from a family with a lot of dead people.”

What a great opening line. Comfort Snowberger has attended 247 funerals, which is a lot for anybody, much less a 10-year-old. Her family runs Snowberger’s Funeral Home, where their motto is “We Live to Serve,” so Comfort and her dog, Dismay, are used to being around grieving folks. That’s not a problem. Her daddy tells her, “”It’s not how you die that makes the important impression, Comfort; it’s how you live.”

I lovedlovedloved this book. Deborah Wiles has such talent. I was in Snapfinger, Mississippi. I could see the inside of Snowberger’s Funeral Home. I was terrified on the rock with Comfort and Dismay. (And annoying Peach.) I wanted to slap Declaration’s snooty face. And I was most definitely inside Comfort’s closet with her as she sat with her mayonnaise jar of freshly-sharpened pencils. I cannot say enough great things about this one. It’s my favorite kids’ novel of all time. – Kristi Hazelrigg

When people love this book they looooooooove this book.  Funny to consider that in a way it’s a sequel.  Deborah Wiles wrote Love, Ruby Lavender in 2001 perhaps little dreaming that the follow-up Each Little Bird That Sings would find a devoted following.  This is an entry into what we New Yorkers call (not without affection) “Southern Girl Novels”.  It pretty much hits everything you expect from such a book (meaning, good food, quirky locals, etc.) while remaining touching not treacly.  A delicate balance.  A delicate book.

The plot summary from my own review reads, “When you grow up in a funeral home like Comfort Snowberger has, you have a healthy understanding of death. And within a single year Comfort’s Great-great-aunt Florentine and Great-uncle Edisto have joined the choir invisible. When Edisto died the funeral would have been beautiful had it not been for Comfort’s scrawny, big-eyed, unable-to-quite-grasp-the-concept-of-dying, seven-year-old cousin Peach. Peach managed to faint into a punch bowl, throw up, scream, and generally (in Comfort’s eyes) make a nuisance of himself. Now Florentine’s funeral is coming up and Peach is in Comfort’s life again. Even worse, her best friend Declaration Johnson has suddenly turned mean. Real mean. If it weren’t for her dog Dismay, Comfort might never know how to get through the next few days. But it takes losing the most important thing in her world to get our heroine to realize what it is to forgive both yourself and others around you.”

Various awards have included:

  • Golden Kite Honor Book
  • Bank Street Fiction Award
  • E.B. White Read-Aloud Award
  • Winner, California Young Reader Medal

There’s a tour journal for those of you teaching the book in some way.

Said Booklist, “Wiles succeeds wonderfully in capturing ‘the messy glory’ of grief and life.”

SLJ had some minor qualms, “Sensitive, funny, and occasionally impatient, Comfort is a wholly sympathetic protagonist who learns that emotions may not be as easy to control as she had assumed. While the book is a bit too long and some of the Southern eccentricity wears thin, this is a deeply felt novel.”

Kirkus seriously liked it, “Despite the setting and plot, the story is not morbid but is an original celebration of life. Unique characters, inventive names (Comfort’s best friend Declaration, who betrays their friendship), a fresh voice and an honest portrayal of life and death are a match made in heaven-and despite the bland title, a memorable tribute to the joys of living.”

Interestingly PW said of it, “Fans of Ruby Lavender will enjoy the overlapping characters and setting, but what they’ll really want is a third book-where Comfort and Ruby get together.”  Well, I’m pretty sure the two were in The Aurora County All-Stars but I can’t say whether or not they interacted all that much.

And as for other covers, there’s not much aside from the paperback.  Couldn’t find any jackets from other countries, though you just know they must be out there somewhere.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Marvelous, now I want to reread everything from Arorua County. Wiles next book in the 60s series will also take place in Mississippi. That is taking much too long.

    On a side note, looking at the collective list so far, with so many “new” books this time around I’m wondering what didn’t make it from last time.

  2. Also, did Frazee do both versions of the cover?

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Yep. That’s Ms. Frazee all the way. Until Countdown she was the official book jacket artist of Ms. Wiles.