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Monday, April 21, 2014

Feathers: Not Just for Flying. Written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen. Charlesbridge, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $14.95 ages 6 and up

"Feathers can dig holes
like a backhoe...
After bank swallows
mate they make a home
together. First the male
uses his bill and the tough
feathers on his lower legs
to dig a two-foot-long
tunnel in a stream bank."

Feathers...who knew? Thanks to the flawless research done by both the author and the illustrator of this fine book, the reader finishes it with a clear, and even surprising, understanding for the many amazing purposes feathers actually have for birds:

"Birds and feathers go together, like trees and leaves, like stars and the sky. All birds have feathers, but no other animals do. Most birds have thousands of feathers, but those feathers aren't all the same. That's because feathers have so many different jobs to do."

Each successive double page spread begins with a leading line that acts as a descriptor. Ms. Stewart
follows it up with a short explanatory paragraph. The text is accompanied by art that offers a journal-like account of the feathers, the habitats, many small details, and a captioned, clear drawing of the bird itself.

The text is clear and informs without being too difficult for young nature lovers. The images she creates with her words are lovely and descriptive. The short, concise paragraphs are enclosed in boxes that make them easy to access. The watercolor illustrations show a 'photograph' of  the bird, often appearing taped, pinned, pasted onto the journal's pages. The small details add to the information garnered. The sixteen birds included will be mostly familiar to those who share this nature study. The ways in which their feathers have helped them adapt to their surroundings are often eye-opening:

"On sizzling summer days a male sandgrouse cools off by soaking his belly feathers in a watering hole. Then the proud papa flies to his nest. While dad guards his chicks, the little ones suck on the feathers to quench their thirst."

The book ends with a classification of the variety in feathers: one that many scientists agree to use. There is also an author's note that explains the evolution of the book itself.

"For this book, I spent three years tinkering with the text. I wrote countless drafts and did four complete overhauls before I finally latched on to the idea of comparing feathers to common objects in our lives."

Lucky we are for Melissa Stewart's persistence in creating books that will matter to children!


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