Review: Two Picture Books With Birds
Plume by Isabelle Simler is a beautifully illustrated book of birds, feathers, and a sneaky black cat. The sleek cat slips into each illustration, twirling its tail around a stork’s leg, peeking out from behind an owl, its whiskers nearly touching a parrotfinch. This is a fun seek-and-find book for little kids, and the illustrations are very pretty, but it lacks an engaging story for older kids. I would definitely buy this as a gift for a 2-4 year old.
Isabelle Simler is a French illustrator whose beautiful book The Blue Hour also includes animals from all over the world. I hope that her illustrated Journey to the Center of the Earth becomes available in English, it looks beautiful.
Plume by Isabelle Simler
Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers
Feather by Cao Wenxuan, illustrated by Roger Mello
Cao Wenxuan is a Chinese author who won the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2016. His book Bronze and Sunflower is the only other book available in English at my library and on Amazon, but he is a prolific author who is well-known and beloved in China.
Illustrator Roger Mello has also been awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Award (2014), and his illustrations use bright colors in a modern palette to depict lively birds.
Feather is a beautifully illustrated book with a simple plot: a feather is searching for the bird it belongs to. It asks every bird it comes across, “Am I yours?” Like Webster J. Duck, he is searching for his place in the world, and he asks many birds if he belongs to them–a kingfisher, a goose. One sweet skylark kindly takes him up into the sky so that the feather can experience flight, and is summarily EATEN BY A HAWK right in front of the sentient feather. Nothing gory is shown but this jolting event feels very violent. Blood is shed, and the only friendly and helpful character in the book is the victim. The feather is in shock, and feels withdrawn in its fall to the ground. It lies on the ground for several days, then finds its place on a hen with a joyful family, and the feather thinks, “Ah, to walk upon the earth instead of flying up in the sky can also be wonderful!” What is the lesson here?
This book will scare the pants off of American picture book readers. My children are aware of the predator-prey relationship, they know where their food comes from, and they have seen animals eat other animals in books, but I would not even attempt to read this to them. The feather grieves and finds hope again, which is uplifting, but it does not make up for the shock of witnessing a gory death. The New York Times headline for their profile of this author was “Little Sugarcoating in Cao Wenxuan’s Children’s Books,” and they were not kidding. Despite the beautiful illustrations, I would not recommend this book. The story is not appropriate for a picture book.
Feather by Cao Wenxuan
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