Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Unfeathered Bird by Katrina van Grouw

Today I have a guest post from my awesome cousin Maija!!  This is a book I was offered for review and it looked really interesting but I knew Maija would have far more intelligent things to say about it than I.
The Unfeathered Bird
4 stars
This is a book for people who love birds, anatomy, and art, probably in that order. I have an amateur interest in all those subjects. Although I was very impressed by the artwork and fascinated by the skeletons and muscles arranged in natural poses, I was often frustrated by the fact that there were no illustrations of the whole feathered bird. I understand that the point of the book was to show the beauty of birds’ internal structure (and Katrina van Grouw does a wonderful job of this), but so many of the birds were unfamiliar to me that I found I needed to read while sitting next to a computer so I could plug the species names into a search engine and see a picture of the complete animal. The book is organized using Linnaeus’s original classifications, which is interesting and fits with the sepia-style drawings. I appreciated that the author also tells us the birds’ current classifications. The text held my attention and did not feel heavy-handed and difficult to follow. There were times when I wanted more information. Some of the birds were summarized so quickly that I again found myself consulting other sources to learn more. (You can look at this as a compliment—the author inspired me to do more reading.) I was also torn with my desire for the illustrations to function as diagrams with arrows pointing out the various features described in the text, but that would have interfered with the artistic elements of the drawings and that is probably why arrows were not used.

Overall, I think this book was designed with a very specific and small audience in mind. It does not have enough information in it to function as a reference book. It assumes that the reader has a basic knowledge about bird species and body parts, but you don’t need to be an expert. Like many coffee-table books, the contents are best suited to casual browsing. I do think that even small illustrations of the complete feathered birds to give the reader a reference point might have been helpful, especially in expanding the audience. However, I respect that they would have interfered with the artistic style of the work.

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