Young Jae is struggling to feel at home in his new city and country. When he looks out the window of his family’s new apartment, he sees a brick wall across the alley and wonders “if he stared hard enough, would he be able to see his old village, his old home, his old friends?” Sadly, he realizes that’s impossible because he has moved too far away.
When Jae’s mother encourages him to make friends with other children in the building, he’s reluctant. What if they don’t like him? And what if they can’t understand the few English words he has learned? Still, his mother urges him to try.
When Jae knocks at another apartment door, he meets a girl named Rosa and her parrot, Pollito. Rosa, with Pollito perched on her shoulder, visits Jae’s apartment, and the two become friends. Rosa’s imagination is a balm for Jae’s homesickness, and Rosa’s and Pollito’s song—“When I fly away, my heart stays here”—comforts him. When perched on the couch, Rosa helps Jae to envision climbing his native mountains and reaching the clouds. Where Jae sees only an empty alley, Rosa helps him picture his country’s bustling market. And when Rosa and Jae look at photos of his old seaside village, Rosa tells Jae to put his ear to the living room wall so he can hear the sea.
As the weeks pass, Jae is happy in his new home. But one morning, he wakes up to find Pollito perched on his bed. He is dismayed to learn that, in the night, Rosa and her family were forced to go back to their native country, and Rosa left Pollito as a gift for him. Later, when a knock on the apartment door interrupts Jae’s melancholy thoughts, he answers it with Pollito on his shoulder and discovers a boy and girl standing there. When he invites them in to hear Rosa’s and Pollito’s song—“When I fly away, my heart stays here”—he feels less lonely and sad.
In a note, author Helena Ku Rhee writes, “I grew up in an apartment building near downtown Los Angeles, where people constantly moved in and out. Whether due to a family’s change in financial status, marital status, or even immigration status, young friendships were often disrupted just as they were forming. I wrote this story because I remembered the loneliness that resulted from friends leaving suddenly, frequently without any warning. Thankfully, life always presented hope for new friendships and new beginnings, usually just a knock away.” (Random House Studio)