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BIRDS OF A FEATHER by Susan L. Roth Kirkus Star


Bowerbirds and Me

by Susan L. Roth ; illustrated by Susan L. Roth

Age Range: 4 - 8

Pub Date: May 14th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-8234-4282-9
Publisher: Neal Porter/Holiday House

Meet fellow artists Roth and her avian counterpart, the bowerbird.

Blending memoir and nonfiction with deep ruminations on what constitutes an artist, Roth presents parallels between her life as an illustrator and the life of an Australian bowerbird. The bowerbird uses both colorful natural materials and “manufactured junk” to elaborately decorate a bower to entice a mate, which Roth presents as a kind of bird “artist’s studio.” It’s heady stuff, and those looking for straight nonfiction should look elsewhere, as most of the factual information on bowerbirds appears in the backmatter. Those willing to follow the metaphor will marvel at the similarities between the two as Roth deftly depicts the bird creating his bower while she metafictively creates this book. Bold, decisively cut collages capture the artists at work, highlighting their shared tools, their uses of artistic principles like space and color, and their equal penchant for collecting “unusual objects of manageable size.” Bird and human are further connected by the black bird’s lush feathers and the white woman’s feathery gray hair. Occasionally, the profusion of stuff feels dizzying, and sometimes comparisons feel lofty—“We each try hard to give our delicate compositions some solidity”—but introspective readers will be satisfied by the reflective nature of the text and the behind-the-scenes look at dual artistic processes.

Roth persuasively argues that “all artists…seek praise,” and this ambitious hybrid demands to be seen. (bibliography) (Picture book/memoir. 4-8)