I love magpies. They’re my favourite bird, which is a good thing because my northern city is teeming with these sturdy, yet beautiful corvids. Magpies overwinter with us, and their almost tropical plumage is often the only colour in our blanched landscape. Like their human companions, magpies are omnivores. They are not picky where dinner originates, be it a robin’s nest, a peanut from my feeder, or some greasy fries in a discarded McDonald’s bag. Again, like us, they love stuff. All stuff. And they will beg, borrow and steal to get it.
More, by I.C. Springman with illustrations by Brian Lies, is the story of one such acquisitive magpie.
It begins with a marble, offered to the magpie by a mouse, who in therapeutic circles would be known as ‘the enabler.’ The magpie had nothing, and now he has something. He is so pleased with his new possession, he picks up a lego block and a penny (actually, an Austrian schilling.) Now he has ‘several.’ The beast is born. The magpie wants more, and more, and MORE.
Like the folks on the TV show Hoarders, the magpie quickly runs out of space to store all his treasures. So, he builds nests-many, many nests to hold his collection, which has grown to include combs, spoons, a golf ball, a string of pearls, a pacifier, and countless numbers of shiny, colourful things. His hoard has gone from a ‘few‘ to ‘plenty.‘ Of course, one bird’s plenty is another bird’s good start. As heaps of stuff teeter precariously from the nests, the accumulation continues until it is ‘way too much.‘ The exasperated mouse shouts:
Wise words, Mr Mouse. This plea for sanity is directed not only at the magpie, but aims squarely at our over-stuffed north american lifestyle. The text by I.C. Springman is spare, and favours humour over preachiness, but the message is clear: more is not better, although I have to admit it is a fascinating (and gorgeously illustrated) collection of stuff. According to an article in Wired, most of it is from the Brian Lies’ own home: “Lies dug into bins and boxes and his own collections of things, and found things like an Austrian shilling that he got on a trip during high school and his great-grandfather’s harmonica. Illustrating the book (and finding all these things to illustrate) pushed Lies toward the realization that his own house could use a little de-cluttering.” Maybe. But why is his stuff so much more interesting than my stuff?
The acrylic and coloured pencil illustrations straddle the line between realism and an affable sort of caricature. Clearly, the magpie is thrilled by his possessions, but his wonderfully expressive face and in particular, his smirk do not detract from the accurate depiction of his ornithological essence. Magpies are beautiful, and he is painted beautifully, as are the mice and the various objet d’art. However, I have one small issue with the nests. An actual magpie’s nest resembles a very large, dome-shaped stick house. It’s very distinctive. Ironically, it would hold a lot of stuff, so you really can’t blame a magpie for his little shopping problem. Nevertheless, multiple nests, for the purposes of this book, are perhaps the better embodiment of More.
As a devoted feeder of birds, I had an interesting encounter with a magpie’s hoarding instincts while attempting to keep pigeons from my birdfeeder. My feeder is a trough, and last winter, as per usual, it was full of seed for the little birds and peanuts for the corvids, like magpies and bluejays, all of whom got along surprisingly well, until the pigeons showed up. Unable to restrain themselves from the daily (free) buffet, the pigeons arrived in large numbers, and with them, a flinty disposition and depressingly loose sphincters. So, after many failed attempts to shoo them away, I devised a cunning plan using chopsticks as a kind of obstacle course, which was manoeverable for the smaller birds (including the mapgies) but too narrow for the pigeons. I figured I’d finally outsmarted the squabs. However, I had not accounted for the magpies fondness for accumulation. The plan worked for one day. The second day two of the chopsticks were missing. The third day, they were all gone, spirited away to a nearby nest. The fourth day, the pigeons returned. Nature is always teaching me stuff. Just like picture books.
I. C. Springman is a small-house person in a McMansion-loving world. She lives as simply as possible with one husband, three dogs, and too many books somewhere down south. More was written for her grandsons, Mason and Jack, with the hope that one day there will be enough for all.
Brian Lies is the author and/or illustrator of more than two dozen children’s books, including his New York Times best-selling bat books (Bats at the Beach, Bats at the Library, and Bats at the Ballgame). He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, daughter, and two cats, and battles clutter in his garage, basement, and studio.
More by I.C. Springman, illustrated by Brian Lies. Published by Houghton Mifflin, 2012. ISBN: 978-0547610832