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by Fred Penner, Vickey Bolling, illus.

Counting Feathers

by Al Simmons, Brian Floca, illus.

Anyone who’s read the liner notes from a favourite record or CD knows how flat and even clumsy song lyrics can sound alone on paper. Yet children’s songs are often produced in picturebook form. When the pictures have a life and story of their own (as in Wheels on the Bus with its delightful illustrations by Maryann Kovalski), these work well. Whitecap Books has taken two songs for children, Proud by Fred Penner and Counting Feathers by Al Simmons, and made them into glossy, well-produced books. But beyond the commotion of the bright colours, there’s little story in either one. Would any child be drawn to even one repeat reading?

Counting Feathers is the more substantial, based on the jazzy and genuinely amusing song by Al Simmons, “I Collect Feathers, I Collect Rocks” (from his album Something’s Fishy at Camp Wiganishie). The cartoons by Brian Floca are full of interesting things happening to two kid characters – diving into a truckful of feathers, using ingenious homemade contraptions to gather them up. The kids shift to rock collecting at the end. There isn’t an actual narrative, and the cadence is quite awkward when there’s just the written word, but once you’ve heard the song itself, the book is a delightful addition to it. In a classroom, library, or home setting where the readers know the music, the book would intrigue and entertain. As a book by itself, it only partly succeeds.

Proud, the dreamy lullaby by the beloved children’s entertainer Fred Penner (from his album Happy Feet), works less well. The drawings are by Vickey Bolling, who uses delicious colours but has created beings with grossly distorted heads and bodies. Children are unlikely to find these illustrations appealing, in spite of the brightness and spattering of colander hats and polka dot trees. Very little goes on in them, so they end up bizarre and uninteresting at the same time. The misshapen creatures have the requisite numbers of crutches and wheelchairs, and each one the same plastic smile. Without Fred Penner’s good music, this 132-word book feels like an extended $14.95 greeting card.