Monday, March 19, 2018

Feather by Cao Wenxuan, illustrated by Roger Mello, translated by Chloe Garcia Roberts

In this simple story about identity, longing and belonging, a single feather, blown about by the wind, begins to wonder what kind of bird she belongs to after two children find her and ask the same question. As the wind carries the feather off again, she longingly thinks that perhaps if she belonged to a bird, she could soar high into the sky. As she is carried along, the feather runs into all kinds of birds, including a kingfisher, a heron, a cuckoo, a peacock, and even a magpie, asking each in turn if she belongs to them. Some dismiss her question, others ignore it, and the peacock is just insulted that a plain feather would be so bold as to think it belonged in his beautiful plumage.

Finally, a skylark offers to fly the feather high up in the air, but then the skylark meets a tragic end when a hawk attacks. Floating back down to the ground, the feather lands on a tuft of grass. Demoralized and traumatized by the hawk, the feather decides that walking the earth can be just as wonderful as flying. No sooner does the feather thinks this, but the sun comes out and a mother hen and her chicks come along. And yes, the hen is missing a feather.

Feather, originally written in Chinese, has a lovely nuanced folktale quality to it that luckily does not get lost in the translation. It is a poignant story about our desire to belong and to know our place in the world, however humble that place may be. There is definitely a philosophical bent to the story which is meant for readers as young as four years old, bit it isn't so deep that they can't handle the questions feather's story asks.

The design of the book is as simple as the tale being told. Each bird that feather encounters is given a two page spread on different colored pages, and illustrated not necessarily in a natural setting, but in various stylized ways and always highlighting the feather along with each different bird.

Most of us know Cao Wenxuan from his novel Bronze and Sunflower, so beautifully translated into English by Helen Wang. Cao, a professor at Peking University in Beijing, is China's best known children's author, and a very prolific one at that. Most of what Cao writes is taken from his own childhood in the 1950s and 1960s, including China's Cultural Revolution. In 2016, Cao won the Hans Christian Anderson Award given by the International Board of Books for Young People (IBBY). Hopefully, as his popularity grows beyond China, more of his books will be translated into English.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was an EARC received from Edelweiss Plus

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