There’s no character at all like Baxter—the little albino mynah bird Mary gives to Jack—in the stories that inspired Jack & Mary in the Land of Thieves.
Baxter appeared as an answer to a plot problem. Author Andy Jones wanted to adapt a story about love and betrayal for children. But he wanted to drop the ‘faithful to the husband’ motif that was the focus of other versions of the story.
That’s how Baxter came into being, the white bird who sings to Jack the location of the key to all his and Mary’s wealth.
Jack and Mary live in the land of thieves so they have to lock away their hard-earned wealth to keep it from being stolen. But how to keep the key out of the hands of the thieves?
“So Baxter becomes a major character. The only way they can possibly keep the key hidden from the thieves is to put in a different place every day. So Mary always tells the bird. She loves Baxter,” said Andy.
After the evil sea captain overhears Mary tell the bird where the key is, he convinces Jack that Mary has told him. That’s the betrayal Jack suspects.
Baxter wasn’t always an albino bird. In Andy’s mind, Baxter was a little black bird. But the book’s illustrator, Darka Erdelji, imagined a different bird. Sometimes stories are co-created by an illustrator’s unexpected interpretation.
"I love that character—I love Baxter,” said Andy. “Of course Darka didn’t make it a black bird, the way he’s supposed to be. I said ‘Darka, but it’s a mynah bird.’ And she said, ‘I don’t care. He’s a white bird in my mind.’ So we made him into a white albino bird. Which is much better.”
“Mary gave Jack a little albino mynah bird named Baxter. He was as smart as a Russian scientist, that bird. He could talk, he could sing, and he composed his own songs — simple straightforward little songs, which occasionally were quite poetical.”