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Ragtag: 06/10/18


Ragtag by Karl Wolf-Morgenländer is an urban fantasy about a clan of birds going to war with an invading clan of raptors. It's written from the point of view of a young swallow, named Ragtag. Their only salvation is a wounded bald eagle who is surprisingly in the city.

Before getting into the mechanics of how the story is told, there's already a bunch of problems. It's not that swallows don't visit the city. It's that they are only there during the summer. Many of the other birds are migratory as well.

Range maps of the tree swallow, barn swallow, and the bald eagle, showing an overlap in ranges ignored in the book.

Somehow too, the clan follows the wise advice of a great horned owl. Excuse me? First of all, they're nocturnal. No way it would be up to running council meetings when the other birds are awake. He might also be tempted to eat one or two of them (though he would prefer mice and frogs).

Then there's the bald eagle. It's been wounded by a poacher or hunter and captured by said person. Then he managed to escape and found himself in Boston. Yes, there was a time not that long ago when bald eagles were near extinction and one would have to drive into the most remote areas of the wilderness to see one. The eagle population nationwide has risen from approximately 400 pairs to approximately 5000 pairs in the last fifty years or so.

To put the rising numbers into a more personal perspective, in 1990 when I took a family road trip to Oregon and Washington, we were shocked and thrilled to see a bald eagle flying over the Willamette Falls area. In the last decade though, bald eagles have begun nesting on a yearly basis at Lake Chabot near Oakland, California.

So if urban California can have a regular population of bald eagles, how about Boston? Well, there's a website for that, It tracks reported sightings of bird species. In looking for bald eagles I bring up dozens of reported sightings, making the premise of this story all the more hokey.

An map showing bald eagle activity in Boston

Finally there is the narration — that's the way in which the story is told, rather than what it contains. The birds in Ragtag's clan speak with a pseudo Native American warrior brave English. We're talking James Fenimore Cooper type language. All it manages to do is tell a boring story. But it's more than that, of course. It's insulting to estimated 5.2 million Native Americans (2010 U.S. Census) who live in the United States.

The book being a lethal combination of poor research, insulting language, and pretentious plot, was one I could not finish.

One star

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