Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Functional Fantastic Feathers

During childhood finding a single bird feather lying on the ground was like finding a secret message.  You wondered if the bird was watching you look at it, pick it up and examine it.  You wondered why or how the feather came to be there.  Most of all, the feather was thought of as a gift. (As an adult I still feel the same way.)

The purpose of the feather before it fell to the ground, other than for flying, had never occurred to me until now.  Feathers Not Just for Flying (Charlesbridge, February 25, 2014) by Melissa Stewart with illustrations by Sarah S. Brannen presents to readers the amazing capabilities of feathers on a variety of birds.  Prepare to be enlightened.

Feathers can warm like a blanket...

If you have ever speculated why birds fluff up their feathers on a cold day, it's to trap warm air next to their skin.  Layering feathers in a nest keeps eggs nice and toasty too.  When temperatures increase out-of-doors, feathers can shield birds from the glare of sunlight to better their hunting skills or again protect their skin.

Feathers can retain water, brush away dirt from other feathers, divert the attention of enemies or provide security like an invisibility cloak.   By calling out with a significant sound or flashing a colorful array, males make their presence known to females.  It's extraordinarily wonderful to discover feathers can whistle.

Do you need to dig a hole?  Do you need to carry building supplies?  Do you need to float or sink?  Feathers are designed to do these very things.  All you have to do is visit Utah, Namibia, Africa, Maryland or Louisiana to watch a Bank swallow, a Rosy-faced Lovebird, a Mute swan or an Anhinga in action.

Adapting to climate and seasons feathers serve to increase movement over ice and through snow.  The next time you hear the chirp of a cardinal, the cawing of crows or the sound of hundreds of wing beats, one word will come to mind...feathers.  They are an impressive example of the ingenuity of Mother Nature.

As in the case of the most recent book I reviewed by Melissa Stewart, No Monkeys, No Chocolate, this new title reflects painstaking research.  In her author's note, Stewart discusses her approach to

figuring out the most interesting way to frame the material.

Choosing to compare the attributes of feathers to items commonly seen in our lives not only makes it interesting, but now whenever those are seen, readers can easily recall the fact attached to each of them.

Each portion of eight statements, broken into two parts, represents one of sixteen birds.  A separate segment of text, one to three sentences long, details the particular characteristics of the feathers.  Here is a sample.

or cushion like a pillow.

A female wood duck
lines her nest with
feathers she plucks
from her own body.
These feathers cushion
the duck's eggs and
keep them warm.

Ten feathers, beautifully portrayed in their natural colors, arranged in descending order according to size, span both sides of the matching dust jacket and book case.  Opening and closing endpapers done in shades of brown are patterned with feathers displayed throughout the title.  An additional series of feathers adorns the opening two pages; identified by the name of the bird from which they come.

All of the illustrations, rendered in watercolor on Saunders Waterford cold-press paper by artist Sarah S. Brannen, are placed on lightly textured backgrounds of pale green, golden yellow, light sky blue, or white.  The arrangement of the elements, text, the feathers, the everyday item and the large portrait of the bird, is like viewing the pages in a naturalist's scrapbook.  Photograph corners, pins, frames, tape, brads, paperclips or glue adhere them artfully in place.  Eight of the birds are given two pages; the rest are tied together with single pages opposite one another.

One of my favorite displays is the depiction of the Club-winged manakin.  On the right with wings lifted among the leafy branches, he is whistling.  On the left is the informative text with three single feathers, a young boy playing a whistle and a close-up of the whistle placed upon a piece of sheet music.

Feathers Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart with illustrations by Sarah S. Brannen is one of my favorite nonfiction titles of 2014.  The mix of narrative and visuals is as pleasing as watching a feather floating on a current of air; light, airy and down-to-earth.  In addition to the author's note two pages are devoted to classifying feathers; six categories are described.

Please be sure to visit the author's and illustrator's websites via the links embedded in their names.  This link takes you to the publisher's website where you can get a peek at the representation of the first bird.  Author Melissa Stewart has several related posts for this book on her blog, Behind the Books: Feathers, Behind the Books: Another Gift for Educators and Behind the Books: Illustrating Feathers.  Each of these posts are filled with information to be used in the classroom setting.

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy to enjoy the other titles on blogs who are participating in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.  It makes the middle of the week extra special.


  1. Great review! Can't wait to see this book.

    1. Thank you, Catherine. I know you are going to love this book.

  2. This book looks delightful! I collect found feathers and think of each one as a treasure.

    1. I think you and this book are a perfect match! I can almost hear you going wow! at every page turn.