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Feathers | Class #4, 2016

stewart_feathers not just for flyingBirds are great animals to study because they are found everywhere, not just in rural areas. I love looking at books about birds around this time of year here in New England. The snow is starting to melt and — if you listen carefully early in the morning — you can hear new birds who have been silent or away for the past few months.

What do you make of the multiple ways Stewart delivers her information? Some people who prefer reading books from start to finish and are confused or frustrated by this piecemeal delivery of information. Others — particularly visual learners — like being able to browse around, reading the sidebars or captions to experience the book in bits and pieces.

This kind of multiple delivery is becoming more and more common in information books for children. And of course it’s similar to navigating websites with menus and sidebars and hyperlinks. Notice how Brannen uses two different styles in her illustrations: a trompe l’oeil scrapbook style and a flatter, less photographic style for the pictures of each bird in action. What does this add to the experience.

I can’t resist ending this post with a little off-topic plug for my own springtime obsession: nest cams. Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology links to nests all over the US, and lots of teachers check in with their classes daily or weekly. Some of them have live chat options, too, with a knowledgeable moderator ready to ask questions and keep the conversation kid-friendly.

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. Madeline Loughridge says:

    I recently used this book in a lesson on informational picture books. To Lolly’s point of people being confused about how the information is delivered, I had to read the book a few times on my own while planning the lesson. There were some pages where it made more sense to read one page at a time while other spreads made more sense to read the larger black text before learning the details of the different feathers and birds. When actually teaching the lesson, I asked to students to share what they already knew about feathers then we compared it to what we knew after reading. The lesson ended up being very successful as students were able to learn and share a lot of new knowledge about feathers!

  2. Joanna Craig says:

    I appreciated this informational picture book as a way to push back against children’s (and many adult’s) ideas about what feathers are for. There are a lot of different concepts in science and in the natural world that we think we have a complete grasp of, but that is only because we have not experienced everything in the world! I really liked how the author saved flying, the most obvious use for feathers, until the end of the book, so that children got a chance to experience all of the other uses first. I also enjoyed how the illustrator made the items on the pages look like something that a scientist had collected as evidence – it might help children understand that their own observations are extremely important as well! I think that in terms of the layout being confusing, it would depend on whether or not this book was being read aloud. If so, I would probably read all of the large text first, and then go back to the small pieces. Otherwise, I think I would let children decide the order in which it made the most sense to them.

  3. I’m really looking forward to visiting the class next Thursday and talking about Feathers! Here’s a blog post by the author, Melissa Stewart, about narrative and expository non-fiction for children. I thought some of you might find it interesting.
    -Sarah Brannen

  4. Jacqueline Scherr says:

    I enjoyed the multiple delivery style used in this informational book. I did not find the multiple delivery format overwhelming. One reason is because the text and illustrations are very direct. On each page, one bird (and it’s feathers) is compared to a specific object. Having two different types of illustrations works well in this book because they serve two purposes. The scrapbook style illustrations help readers visualize the comparison being made on each page by portraying the specific object. The flatter style illustrations help readers visualize the bird being discussed on the page by portraying one specific bird in it’s habitat. Additionally, readers can see how there are a variety of birds from many different places.
    I like Madeline’s idea of having students discuss their pre and post knowledge of feathers. I can see how that would be effective in a classroom unit about feathers. I also like Joanna’s point about observations. This could be a way to incorporate science into the curriculum as well. I also think that reading the large text first would be a good way to read this book out loud to students. Then students can look at the object scrapbook picture, read the smaller print, and look at the image of the bird.

  5. Christina Simpson says:

    As Jacqueline mentioned, I found the comparisons of feathers to common objects, from pillows to sunscreen, quite effective! It was fascinating learning about all of the various ways feathers are used, and I could see students really enjoying this book. I think including images of the everyday objects was a good choice as well; it allows readers to visualize and think more deeply about the uses of the various types of feathers.

    In terms of the layout, I did not find it confusing. I read the larger text first and then studied all of the additional details next, and as someone who enjoys learning visually, I thought the format worked well. I could, however, see how it could be somewhat difficult to present as a read aloud, as Joanna touches on.

  6. Gabby Cohn says:

    This is a beautiful book on many levels. The illustrations are engaging and well-placed on each page, which makes for a pleasurable read. I felt a calm, earthy energy as I read each page. Even as an adult, I learned new facts about feathers and birds. This seems like a great book to read with the entire family (even if children are at different reading levels). I appreciated how the author compared feathers and birds to everyday objects. I’ve found that students do better with their reading comprehension when they can make these types of comparisons. This could be a great book to use in an introductory lesson of the concept of “similes” and “metaphors” for young readers. The diversity of feathers illustrated on the front cover was a powerful choice. On a deeper level, it allows children to see how animals (including humans) can be different, but also beautiful in their own, unique ways.

  7. Caroline holkeboer says:

    I really enjoyed reading this informational text! While I could see how some readers might find the delivery of text to be confusing, I found it to be actually quite engaging and fun! Like Gabby, I also thought that this book would be a great way to introduce readers to similes in a clear and concrete way. This seemed like a really unique way to present information in the story. Additionally, as I was reading, I found myself often gravitating to the written inserts rather than the large, bold text at the top of the page. Since the reader’s attention is drawn to these inserts and captions throughout the text, this could lead to an important conversation with students about text features in informational texts.

  8. Andrew Bauld says:

    I thought this was a really gorgeous book. It was so clever to use analogies to real life objects to compare the different feather, but in particular unique ones like snowshoes and fishing sinkers. It makes it really accessible for kids to be able to think about everyday objects that they probably interact with to make the scientific concepts more easily understood. I have to say I learned a lot from this book, and I think that’s a sign of an excellent children’s book, especially scientific, informational books, that approach these ideas with a sense of curiosity and excitement that translates to both children and adults.

  9. Elizabeth Dorr says:

    As some have already mentioned, I really liked the comparisons to objects that kids would already be familiar with such as sunscreen, a sponge, or a sled. I think that small element made the information seem more relatable and easier to understand for kids of all ages. I also really enjoyed the faux scrapbook design/layout, and I can remember making these as a kid for school projects or from walks around my neighborhood collecting all kinds of things in nature. I could see this book being used as a good jumping off point for a research project where kids make their own scrapbooks about a topic as well. Finally, I also liked how each bird came from a very different place in the country or the world, and I appreciated being able to see diversity on many different levels from feather uses to geographic habitats to types of birds, etc.

  10. Tom Grasso says:

    Like so many people before, I really enjoyed Stewart’s use of common objects to make the different types of feathers and their functions come alive, which is so helpful for children to learn abstract science concepts. The range of objects Stewart used was also so imaginative. I know that I used the word “common” to describe the objects, but some of them are not really all that common, e.g., a bullfighter’s cape. The use of objects to make comparisons to different kinds of feathers also created so many different entry points for a reader to understand the different kinds of feathers. I think if I used this book with younger children, I would read the main text first because it flows very much like a narrative picture book. One thing that struck me at the end of the book in the “Author’s Note” is that Stewart focused on research first and then figured out which way she could frame the material to make it more engaging. This process of “framing the material” in the context of comparing feathers to objects took her three years and “countless drafts,” highlighting the time, energy, thought, and care which is invested in high-quality children’s books.

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