Roaring Brook Press, May 6 2014
anthropomorphic picture book
galley received via publisher (thank you!)
The birds of the neighbourhood say caw, coo, chip and peep all year long. Little Brown Bird is tired of repeating the same old words over and over again, but Crow likes to keep things serious, not silly. Can the neighbourhood return to its proper state?The cover:
The usage of speech bubbles to encircle the title is very telling and evocative of the book itself, and also continues with the book's interior bibliographic text and even the exterior (the ARC "NOT FOR SALE" message is enclosed in one too!). The background blue is a wee bit boring, but also standard for picture book covers, and at least the four tree-bush-things allow the author/illustrator's fascinating colour style to be showcased.
To be honest, the illustration style did not attract my attention at first when opening the book. The intriguing mix of pencil, charcoal, ink and digital colour is unusual and provides an almost collage-like effect that seems cartoon-ish at first. But keep reading, and soon the genius of the illustrations reveals itself. In particular, the broad expanse of the sky backgrounds benefit, given this book's longer-than-usual trim size; Portis shows the passing of time in beautiful ombe gradients and lit-up/shadowed sides on hedges that move, signifying the transition from day to night and back.
In contrast, the birds are outlined and coloured in thick blocked lines, supporting the remarkable range of body language used to tell the story and the fascinating amount of expressions Portis is able to achieve simply by the shaping of the birds' eyes (à la Jon Klassen's This Is Not My Hat). The mannerisms of the birds go a long way toward developing the personalities of each, belying the fact that this is a picture book; Crow's flights are majestic, wingtips curled, while Cardinal's wings perk out at odd angles. Adding to these are the snippets of dialogue which litter each spread, short sentences that are sure to be fun to read aloud in different voices.
In fact, the text is just as strong as the art. An overarching narration typeset in a stick-straight sans serif font drops a sentence or two on each page to frame the story, while the dialogue of the birds propels the conflict along. (Little Brown Bird: "Tiffle biffle, just a little miffle!" Crow: "STOP! You are little and brown and you say PEEP!") Some spreads feature only dialogue, which works just as well as the spreads which contain only a single sentence of narration. And the climax of this picture book takes place over a series of four panels over a double spread, allowing the art to combine with the birds' dialogue to finally reveal whether crows, too, can be silly.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5