Sponsored Collection

Atlantic Books for the Holidays


Free as a Bird Teachers' Guide

Dundurn Teachers' Guide

by Gina McMurchy-Barber

0 ratings
0 of 5
comments: 0
reviews: 0
published: 2012
publisher: Dundurn
Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
12 to 15
7 to 10
Reading age:
12 to 15
close this panel
  • Commended, IBBY Collection for Young People with Disabilities
  • Short-listed, CLA Young Adult Book Award
  • , VOYA Top-Shelf Fiction for Middle School
  • , IBBY Awards
  • Short-listed, Governor General's Award for Children's Literature
  • Short-listed, BC Book Prizes
  • Short-listed, Snow Willow
close this panel

Short-listed for the 2010 Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature, the 2010 Snow Willow Award and the 2011 CLA Young Adult Book Award
Born with Down syndrome, Ruby Jean Sharp comes from a time when being a developmentally disabled person could mean growing up behind locked doors and barred windows and being called names like "retard" and "moron." When Ruby Jean’s caregiver and loving grandmother dies, her mother takes her to Woodlands School in New Westminster, British Columbia, and rarely visits.
As Ruby Jean herself says: "Can’t say why they called it a school – a school’s a place you go for learnin an then after you get to go home. I never learnt much bout ledders and numbers, an I sure never got to go home."
It’s here in an institution that opened in 1878 and was originally called the Provincial Lunatic Asylum that Ruby Jean learns to survive isolation, boredom, and every kind of abuse. Just when she can hardly remember if she’s ever been happy, she learns a lesson about patience and perseverance from an old crow.

close this panel
Contributor notes

Gina McMurchy-Barber was the recipient of the 2004 Governor General’s Award for Excellence in Teaching Canadian History. She majored in archaeology at Simon Fraser University, studied orangutans in Borneo under Dr. Birute Galdikas, and led backpack tours to Asia and South America. Her first novel, Reading the Bones, was nominated for the Silver Birch Award and the Langley Book of the year Award. She lives in Surrey, British Columbia.

close this panel
Editorial Reviews

Gina McMurchy-Barber has written a powerful novel.

— Resource Links

As a tale of privation, Free as a Bird reads like Janet Fitch's novel White Oleander, but for young people. There's brightness at the end, but getting there is grim.

— Vancouver Sun

Ruby Jeans story at Woodlands is terrible because its so true.

— Canadian Teacher magazine

Without lecturing and through excellent use of narrative, this author renders the reader to be Ruby Jean. And through this exquisite experience, empathy and understanding flourish. McMurchy-Barber uses some of her experiences with her sister with Down syndrome to assist her in finding voice for this must-tell story.

— Bloom magazine

Ruby Jeans unique voice coupled with the hardships thrown her way make for a poignant novel. Lessons of hope, perseverance and self-restraint are told by someone who was simply en retard.

— What If? Magazine

A powerful and intense story about how recently our society considered some children to be worthless and expendable and a reminder that this is still the the case in many places.

— Canadian Children's Book News

[The author] brings a sense of empathy and compassion to the storytelling... highly recommended for mature young readers.

close this panel

Buy this book at:

About the Author

Gina McMurchy-Barber

Gina McMurchy-Barber is the author of Free as a Bird, a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award, and the Peggy Henderson Adventure Series. Gina lives in Surrey, B.C.

Author profile page >

Other titles by Gina McMurchy-Barber

more >

User Activity

more >
Contacting facebook
Please wait...