FOR THE BIRDS
Illustrated by John Bianchi
Illustrated by John Bianchi
Volume 19 Number 2
For the Birds, written by Margaret Atwood and illustrated by John Bianchi, is one of a new series on pollution issues published by Ground wood/Douglas & Mclntyre. Called "Earth Care Books," the series is intended to blend a fictional tale with factual information in an effort to inform and involve children in environmental concerns.
Although Atwood is best known for her adult fiction and poetry, she has written two previous works for children: Anna's Pet with Joyce Barkhouse and Up in the Tree. In this, her third, she introduces Samantha, new to the neighbourhood and unhappy about it. Samantha trespasses onto the adjoining yard and injures a cardinal that is visiting the bird feeder. Caught by the owner/bird lover, Phoebe Mergansel, Samantha is transformed into a bird. Phoebe, now a crow, and Samantha, a scarlet tanager, migrate to the South American rain forest, and on the way Samantha is exposed to the many environmental hazards facing birds, from lead shot poisoning to pesticides.
While Atwood's prose flows well, the character development takes second place to the teaching emphasis of the book. Phoebe has a strong and imperative message to present; however. Samantha's personal and attitudinal changes are too abrupt to work effectively to create a satisfying story. Atwood does show a ready identification with children's sense of the "grossitating" when the recently transformed Samantha finds herself instinctively gulping down an insect. Her anguished "Gak! I just ate a beetle" will appeal, as will the scene where Samantha's cat becomes a ferocious threat to her owner.
The book's illustrations are laden with Bianchi's characteristic humour. Using soft colours and exaggerated features, he provides a gentle accompaniment to the serious messages of the text. In keeping with the natural history focus, he has maintained consistency in bird colorization if not in detail. The human Samantha, wearing yellow overalls and a green sweater, becomes a female scarlet tanager with appropriate olive back and wings and yellow breast feathers.
Shelley Tanaka, author of Michi's New Year and collaborator with Ernie Coombs (Mr. Dress-up) on two volumes of craft activities, has written the factual portion of the book. Information on endangered birds, migration, bird watching and creating a bird-friendly environment appears in side bars or within boxes. This information is accurate and useful but in the existing format draws the eye and attention away from the story text. A similar factual presentation of the subject is available in Birdwise by Pamela Hickman. The latter book works more effectively as an information/activity book although the subject matter is less wide ranging.
The intention of the "Earth Care" series is very commendable and in these "greening" days, any and all material on the subjects of pollution and the environment is in demand in public libraries. As a result, the book will prove a useful addition to environmental collections although this reviewer has reservations about the success of the combined fiction/fact format.
Jennifer Johnson, Ottawa, Ont.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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