CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Margaret Atwood

Illustrated by John Bianchi
Toronto, Groundwood / Douglas & Mclntyre, 1990. 54pp, paper, $12.95
ISBN 0-88894-825-5. (Earth Care Books). CIP

Grades 3 to 7/Ages 8 to 12
Reviewed by Jennifer Johnson.

Volume 19 Number 2
1991 March

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.
line indexes


1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


The materials in this archive are copyright © The Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission Copyright information for reviewers

Young Canada Works