Monday, September 2, 2013

The Landing A Night of Birds by Katherine Scholes

"Each great wing was as long as a man is tall. But in this wild wind the bird was tossed along like a paper plane - struggling over long mounds, bumps and heaps of troubled air. It flew with its head slung low and eyes half closed against the beating hail."

The story begins with a master of the winds, a beautiful, ageing Wandering Albatross, desperately carving his way through a violent storm. The next chapter switches to Annie, who along with her grandfather, Old Joe, awake to a violent gale to discover a sea of dead and exhausted birds struggling to survive in their yard. Quickly, and in difficult conditions, the two collect the living birds and give them asylum in their boathouse not far from their cottage. Annie is fastidious in her search for birds, not willing to leave one living bird out in the cruel elements. As it turns out, the birds are mutton birds (Short-tailed Shearwaters) returning from their marathon flight from the Aleutian Islands, off Alaska. Throughout the story the reader is continually questioning the relationship between the albatross struggling out at sea and the stranded mutton birds back on shore.  The story then takes a fantastical twist with Annie waking one night to feathery noises, and finding she can communicate with the birds. She learns of the legend of the mariner and the albatross. Interwoven with Annie's encounters with the Bard and the other birds is the struggle of the albatross. Eventually, the two stories collide.The illustrations by David Wong include water colour plates and ink sketches, and both masterfully bring the stormy tale to life. In the back of the book there is are some interesting author's notes containing information about the Wandering Albatross, the Short-tailed Shearwater and the Rime of the Ancient Mariner along with other information pertinent to the tale. I have two copies of this hardback book in our little library of rescued books for students to enjoy and share. 

A captivating illustration by David Wong
I could really relate to this story as one year whilst visiting Nek Beach on Bruny Island I was sad to see the hundreds of mutton birds who did not quite complete their epic journey. They were still graceful in death. Every year we go down to the viewing platform at Nek Beach to see both these beautiful birds and the little penguins over the summer holiday period.

Death at the Nek 2008

Short-tailed Shearwater

Graceful in death

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