• Posted on January 06, 2013
Pallas's Cormorant

Extinct Boids

“Spring is sprung, the grass is riz. I wonder where the boidies is…”

It started out simply. Ceri Levy, a film-maker, inspired by the subjects of his most recent documentary, The Bird Effect, embarked on an exhibition of extinct and endangered birds, soliciting work from a number of artists, writers and musicians, including one Ralph Steadman. Asked to produce a single extinct bird illustration of his choosing, Steadman, a life-long balker of rules, created more than 100 avian masterpieces; birds of every species, including the newly ‘discovered’ Lousy Grudgian, the Humpbacked Blue Mult, and the Gob Swallow. A special room was dedicated to his illustrations for the duration of the Ghosts of Gone Birds exhibit in 2011, and in 2012, in collaboration with Ceri Levy, Extinct Boids was hatched.

There are many great things about Ralph Steadman, not least of which is the fruitfulness of his imagination. No sooner had I ordered Ralph Steadman’s Cats (to be reviewed), Extinct Boids showed up on his website, and shortly thereafter, under my Christmas tree. It’s a hefty book. The long, rectangular shape is perhaps a nod to the over-sized John James Audubon Birds of America portfolio produced in the late 1800’s, minus the field guide accuracy (and ornithological death count.) Most of the birds in this tome are extinct or endangered birds, like the Great Auk, whose last surviving member supposedly caused a great storm off the coast of Scotland and was therefore killed as a witch, but not all. Attention is also paid to the long suffering residents of Toadstool Island, accessible only by the HMS Steadmanitania, where a ‘confusion of boids’ have lived relatively unobserved, until now…

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  • Posted on July 11, 2012
Little Bird

Small Things Are Treasures

“May my heart always be open to little birds who are the secrets of living.”*

~E.E. Cummings

Every so often a picture book comes across my desk that makes me weep. It’s not always because the story is sad. Roger Ebert said it’s not sadness in movies that make him cry, it’s kindness. Yes. Sometimes, it’s sheer gratitude that such a beautiful thing exists, or the quiet way an author or illustrator expresses the wonder of being alive. Little Bird by Germano Zullo and Albertine is such a book. It’s joy, kindness, wonder, sadness (but of the wistful sort), and beauty. In short, Little Bird is a treasure.

The story of Little Bird is minimalist, as are the illustrations. Although the artist is Swiss, the block of gold against a cloudless blue sky is like a flat, prairie landscape from western Canada. Perhaps it is canola, or wheat, but the details are few, and the only human activity is a red van, ambling down a narrow, winding road. When it stops at the edge of a crevasse, a peculiar-looking fellow in a plaid shirt and blue overalls departs the cab, walks around to the back, and opens the door.

A large bird flies out, followed by a flock of beautifully imagined fowl of varying design and colour. This is no ordinary delivery, and it will be no ordinary day. A small black bird, who for some reason has not followed the others into the sky, stares up at the man from the darkness of the van. The man flaps his arms, encouraging the tiny creature to take wing, but the bird doesn’t move. The man sits down next to the bird, offering part of his sandwich. The two of them eat their lunch in amiable silence, until the man makes an even more ridiculous attempt to lure the bird out of the truck. It works, and the black bird joins the flock. Mission accomplished, or so you might think, but as the text promises, some days are different. Little Bird soars in unexpected ways, and the final illustration is magical, but also funny, and deeply moving.

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  • Posted on March 25, 2012
More!!!

Materialism & the Magpie

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.

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  • Posted on May 11, 2011
Ten Birds

The Magnificent Ten

Here’s a book that’s got it all: beautiful illustrations, wonderfully inventive text, and pigeons. Or at least I think they’re pigeons. Plumper than pigeons perhaps, and lovelier, but the eyes are quintessential squab. Don’t get me wrong, I love pigeons, just not on my bird feeder. Cybèle Young’s pigeon-like birds, on the other hand, would be welcome at my feeder at any time. Not that they would ever get there of course, at least not before all the seeds had been consumed by the sparrows and nuthatches. Faced with the dilemma of having to get to the other side of the river, ten birds devise ten unique methods of negotiating the gap. It’s not so much a case of why did the chicken (pigeon) cross the road, but how. And I can promise you one thing: these birds think out of the box. Way out out of the box.

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