How to Turn Into a Bird by María José Ferrada

“But by climbing up to the billboard house, he had transformed into an intermediary figure somewhere between a friend, a bird, and a teacher. I’d never seen that combination before, and I would never see it again.”


After years of hard work in a factory outside of Santiago, Chile, Ramón accepts a peculiar job: to look after a Coca-Cola billboard located by the highway. And it doesn’t take long for Ramón to make an even more peculiar decision: to make the billboard his new home.

Twelve-year-old Miguel is enchanted by his uncle’s unusual living arrangement, but the neighborhood is buzzing with gossip, declaring Ramón a madman bringing shame to the community. As he visits his uncle in a perch above it all, Miguel comes to see a different perspective, and finds himself wondering what he believes—has his uncle lost his mind, as everyone says? Is madness—and the need for freedom—contagious? Or is Ramón the only one who can see things as they really are, finding a deeper meaning in a life they can’t understand from the ground?

When a local boy disappears, tensions erupt and forgotten memories come to the surface. And Miguel, no longer perched in the billboard with his uncle, witnesses the reality on the ground: a society that, in the name of peace, is not afraid to use violence. With sharp humor and a deep understanding of a child’s mind, How to Turn Into a Bird is a powerful tale of coming of age, loss of innocence, and shifting perspectives that asks us: how far outside of our lives must we go to really see things clearly?

What I thought

Gorgeously detailed, layered, and a true pleasure to read. 

How to Turn into a Bird was a short, but piercing little book. It made me think about the dysfunctions of family, the complexities of love and the unexpected places we form bonds.

Through Miguel's eyes, I experienced this wonderful view of the world which was more innocent and filled with curiosity and unlimited possibility. Telling the story from the perspective of a young boy was really quite beautiful.

The scenes with Ramón in his billboard house were so richly described that each one came to life. Ferrada has created this magnificent place that exists between the earth and sky, and as a reader I craved the solitude that one must feel there. 

How to Turn into a Bird flowed well from start to finish and was a one sitting read. It was a blissful escape.

María José Ferrada’s children’s books have been published all over the world. Her first adult novel, How to Order the Universe, has been translated into nine languages. Ferrada has been awarded numerous prizes and is a three-time winner of the Chilean Ministry of Culture Award. How to Turn Into a Bird received the Chilean Art Critics Circle Award. She lives in Santiago, Chile.

How to Turn into a Bird is available for purchase in paperback. Check IndieBound for an independent store near you.