Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Winged Wonders

I feel very fortunate that, for whatever reason, for as long as I can remember, I have been aware of the natural world around me.  When the birds migrate south for winter, I am acutely aware of the heavy silence left by their absence.  But in that silence the cheerful call of a nearby Black-capped chickadee, when Xena and I are walking in the snow, is made all the sweeter.

With every nonfiction title I read about our world and its inhabitants, the importance of passing this mindfulness on to other generations is becoming increasingly important.  There are more than a few books in the 2012 Nerdy Book Club Award nominees which will would work well in this regard for readers of all ages.  One standout title is Birds Of A Feather (Chronicle Books, September 26, 2012) by Bernadette Gervais and Francesco Pittau.

Within twelve, yes only twelve, pages a vast array of interesting, intriguing information is presented through a series of flaps, fold-outs, using stunning artwork.  At the first turn of page (this book measures 15 1/2 inches tall, 11 1/4 inches wide) readers are greeted by four stark black flaps featuring white silhouettes of bird heads on the top and bird feet on the bottom.  Initially you might think the head and feet are matched pairs but when the flaps are lifted, each reveals a single important fact about four different birds colorfully displayed in their entirety.

White with black bird head silhouettes covering the entire page, facing one another, follow.  For these two the whole page lifts up to showcase the silhouetted bird stating a little-known attribute next to a large portrait of each, reminiscent of Audubon.  Twelve flaps in total cover the next two pages; each a close-up of a bird's feathers.  With a lift readers discover a new fact about each as well as seeing a full body view of the bird.

Sixteen eggs of varying sizes, each converted to lift, cover the next two pages.  When they are lifted a feat of paper engineering displays a replica of the bird as a pop-up whose egg is highlighted with an accompanying bit of information.  Whether you are a fan of mix and match flaps or not, the ninth and tenth pages are a treat focusing on six different birds.

Ending as it began the concluding pages are black.  Each are a series of four inter-locking puzzle pieces with a single circular die-cut on each piece giving a peek as to what is pictured below.  As each piece is opened a single quality on the underside is written in white; full page illustrations of two different owls appear.

Simple sentences state a unique detail about the more than forty featured birds.  Pittau and Gervais somehow have managed to introduce a precise bit of information you never knew, but now you're glad you do know.  Ostriches are the fastest two-legged animals on the planet.  Emperor penguins can stay underwater longer than any other bird.  Zebra finches pass their songs from father to son.  Common buzzards attract their mates by spiraling downward in flight.  Their characteristics make each special; a part of our planet to be preserved.

Even not knowing the medium used for the illustrations, their realistic portrayal is captivating in its authenticity.  The contrasts of white on black, black on white, alternating with full color when coupled with the lifting of flaps, bring a sense of discovery to the reader much like looking for treasure.  Impeccable design and layout add to the symmetry; throughout all the birds on the left are facing those on the right and vice versa.

As a team Bernadette Gervais and Francesco Pittau have completed more than forty books.  Birds of a Feather is a visual and factual tribute to their considerable skills.  I foresee multiple purchases necessary to satisfy the demand for this wonderful volume.

To celebrate the first day of 2013, I will give a copy of this book to the first person who can tell me in the comments or on Twitter, one of the two states in the United States which has the Black-capped chickadee as their state bird.

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