It was a hot day in the jungle.
The birds were at the pool.
But none of them were swimming.
Vancouver-based author/illustrator Derek Desierto offers young readers a new take on dealing with being perceived as being different from those around you. In an opening spread, dozens of sweaty but brightly feathered birds of different species are gathered around a cooling pool of water, but none of them are prepared to go into the water because their getting wet would dull the colour of their plumage, and “All they cared about was showing off their fabulous feathers.” When a small monochromatic grey bird arrives and dips his toes in the pool, the other birds see him as being colourless and, therefore, an odd bird, and they drive him away.
Alone in the colourful jungle, the outcast Oddbird notices all the brightly coloured vegetation around him, and he devises a plan to become more acceptable to the birds gathered at the pool. Desierto does not tell his readers what Oddbird’s scheme is; instead, he shows readers the outcome via a spread which finds Oddbird back at the pool, but now he is festooned with colourful leaves, petals and other plant material. The pool birds “...didn’t recognize him. And they loved the way he looked.”
All along though, the little bird’s purpose had been to cool off in the water and he was not there to be just seen and accepted. Consequently, Oddbird climbs up the diving board while ignoring shouts of “Is he going to get wet?” and “What about his gorgeous feathers?”. As Oddbird plunges off the board and enters the water, he sheds his temporary feathers, and, when he pops up in the pool, he’s once again his monochromatic self. Now, the other birds see not Oddbird’s lack of colour but instead they observe how much refreshing fun he is having.
One by one, the other birds jumped into the pool.
Their feathers got frizzy. Their colors became dull.
But no one cared anymore about those things.
What was more important was how they felt.
Desierto’s collage illustrations, with their many bursts of colour, are absolutely delightful, and all of the numerous birds exude tons of personality.
Oddbird is a fun read that offers a gentle message for its young listeners/readers (and perhaps for some of its “older” readers too?).
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.