'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Review: Feathers for Phoebe

I’ve reviewed seemingly countless picture books this year, from a variety of sources – from major publishing houses through indie and self-publishers. Yes, I’ve had my favourites, but overall, most of these books have been absolutely glorious. And a handful of them have completely blown my socks off – to the point where I never expected another contender to bundle them all up and trounce them in a single sitting.

Well, Feathers for Phoebe has done just that.

Sure, I’m speaking subjectively here, but how else can I speak? I will try to be as objective as I can, but there’s no denying it – I am totally floored by this book.

Rod Clement is certainly a man of talent – he has produced many beautiful, award-winning books, but Feathers for Phoebe has to be his crowning and most feathery glory. I’ll try to paint it right here for you, but I doubt I’ll do it justice, so you’ll just have to skitter along to the bookstore or library yourself.

It starts with the cover. I mean, just look at it. From the riot of feathery colour to the grassy moss on the vine. So so beautiful. And look at the face on Pheobe. Does she look like a wannabe (and aren’t we all wannabes?) or no? From her downy feathers to the look in her eye – how I love this sweet little wannabe bird.

You see, Phoebe is small, plain and grey. And she doesn’t like it – not one little bit. “I want to be noticed”, she tells her extravagant friend Zelda, owner of the most popular beauty salon in the forest.

So Zelda sets about making Pheobe fabulous. First, she offers her a selection of outlandishly festive crests.

“No… no… maybe… no… maybe… no… yes!” says Pheobe, as she chooses her new headdress. Plonking this outrageous pile of fluorescent bling on little Phoebe’s head is priceless – reminiscent of a two year old in grandma’s dress-up box, draping herself in vintage bling.

But even with her new gear, no one seems to notice Phoebe as she flies around the forest

So next, Pheobe selects from a jovial range of tail feathers, then a collection of vibrantly patterned wings. And still no one notices.

So she goes back for more – next it’s her chest and back – until she’s so stacked up with a multitude of multihued faux feathers, Phoebe can barely move, let alone fly.

‘No flying, darling,” says Zelda, who advises Phoebe that parading and posing are the only options if one wants to be so utterly beautiful – and if she really wants to be noticed, she also needs a unique song and some special moves.

As Phoebe explores these specialized elements in the old Get Noticed routine, I defy you not to burst into raucous laughter. Absolutely brilliant and comic genius is happening here with these pictures and text.

And of course, this amount of ‘faux’ can’t last too long for Phoebe. Something has to give and you’ll just have to see for yourself whether Phoebe achieves her get-noticed goal. Can being ourselves be enough, after all?

Well, what do you think?

The visuals in this book are extraordinary – anyone with a love of colour or fashion or style or design will be mesmerized by Phoebe’s lusciously beautiful choice of feather bling. But the artist doesn’t stop at a giddy array of patterned and coloured feathers. He adds more. SO much more, your eyes grow heavy from looking. The butterflies, the pink mushrooms, the frogs, the insects, the delicately positioned orchids and blades of grass, but most importantly, the glorious expressions on his characters’ faces.

But it’s the voice Clement uses in his writing that sets this book apart from the stunning visual array of books out there. Dry, funny, dangerously good, with a knack for making a bird packed with unlikeable faults into the most charming little heroine you could imagine.

My favourite picture book this year, and trust me – that’s saying something considering the illustrious company this book holds court with.

Get skittering. Don’t miss it.

Title: Feathers for Phoebe
Author/Illustrator: Rod Clement
Publisher: Angus & Robertson, A$24.99RRP
Publication Date: 1 November 2010
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9780732289195
For ages: 4+
Type: Picture Book

Sorry - just had to show you the cover again. Yes, I wish wrote this. And illustrated it, too. Dream on...