Here’s a quick post to share some art from Kate Samworth’s Aviary Wonders Inc.: Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual, to be released by Clarion in March.
Now, this is one of the most bizarre picture books I’ve seen in a while, which at the very least brings to my mind this guy exclaiming things like “DON’T BE BORING.” This book definitely has that goin’ for it.
This one is slightly macabre in spots, though I’ve sat here for entirely too long at my keyboard, thinking that “macabre” isn’t precisely the word I want. How about this: The Publishers Weekly review (one starred review of several) calls it “unsettling and unforgettable.” Booklist describes it as “original, somewhat disturbing, and wholeheartedly bizarre (but in a good way!).” Yes, all those things, and I like it — and my own children absolutely delighted in it. This is surely one of the most offbeat picture books I’ve seen in recent years.
Let me back up and tell you what it is. It’s a pretend futuristic catalog that sells bird parts so that you can build your own bird. “Renewing the World’s Bird Supply Since 2031” is the fake company’s motto of sorts (as you can see on the book’s cover). There’s a pretend “About the Company” note, which opens the book. It’s written by the company’s founder, Alfred Wallis, where he states:
I know we can’t replace the birds that have been lost. But we can provide you with the opportunity to create an exquisite alternative: your very own bird, a work of art you’ll treasure for a lifetime.
You can peruse bird bodies, beaks, tails, legs and feet, flight patterns, and wings. You can even browse the Style Gallery and consider collars, crests, and wattles and combs. Like any good catalog, it includes a sample of assembly instructions.
Along the way, you might learn a bit about various birds of the world—a copyright page note indicates that many of the birds were real, or once were—but let me be clear: Samworth doesn’t seem at all to be teaching anyone a lesson here, despite the School Library Journal review that notes: “Although the book’s offbeat humor may puzzle many readers, the ecological subtext will resonate with some environmentally concerned children and adults who hope such a catalog will not become a necessary reality.” I mean, yes, there’s that environmental subtext—for one, she notes threats to extinction for many of these birds—but the offbeat humor they point out? That’s the name of the game here. (Think: Assembly instructions which guide those who have purchased bird legs in the ways of strapping those legs onto the bird’s body with cummerbunds and belts.) And that’s good. Anything really heavy-handed would have been a bit much.
Kate evidently created this after being inspired by bird-watching on a trip to Brazil, as well as by “the story of a couple who returned to New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina and lamented the resulting temporary absence of birds from the area.” (That’s from the book’s jacket flap bio of Samworth.) She illustrated with oils, as I understand it; this is her first illustrated book; and many of the paintings are simply beautiful. (Here’s where she writes about it at her site.)
And this one has a dustjacket you’ll want to remove to see the cover art below, in this case a series of paintings showing some of the company’s “customer favorites.”
Here below is some more art. Enjoy!
AVIARY WONDERS INC.: SPRING CATALOG AND INSTRUCTION MANUAL. Copyright © 2014 by Kate Samworth. Published by Clarion Books, Boston. All images here reproduced by permission of the publisher.