Inside the CBCA Shortlist
The Feather (Hardie Grant Egmont) is written and illustrated by two of Australia’s most eminent picture book creators, Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood.
The Feather is an allegorical, allusive tale. It begins, “In the darkness of day, the feather falls. It used to be part of a wing that was serene and joyous. Now it is unmoored. It sinks to the ground. Flutters. Lies still.”
Maria and Nico are curious. The feather reminds Maria of “olden-day pictures”. They take it to the villagers who want to preserve it because of the memories it brings. Maria knows that the feather needs to fly and feel the sun, wind and rain but the it is too late, the feather is already trapped. It becomes stained and discoloured and the villagers reject it. However, the children treasure it and let it fly free.
The illustrations create both ominous and uplifting atmospheres.
Freya Blackwood’s website is https://www.freyablackwood.com.au/
Using the book with students:
Feather Symbol The book leaves us with the question, “What might the feather symbolise?” Students suggest answers.
Metaphorical Language Margaret Wild’s descriptions of the feather are often metaphorical. Students find examples, e.g. “The feather is as light as thistledown.” “The feather trembles, as if it is a living thing.”
Fore-edge/Fourth-edge Painting Fore-edge painting is a traditional form of painting on the fanned or slanted pages of a book. The picture is hidden when the book is closed. Students view examples of fore-edge painting, e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fore-edge_painting and images online. This technique is difficult to replicate in a school setting but students, instead, paint the fourth-edge (outside of the pages opposite the spine) of a book.
The feather in The Feather is an ideal motif for fourth-edge painting. Students first practise painting a feather on paper. When proficient they could sketch and then paint the feather onto the outside pages of an old novel-sized book – the fourth-edge. The book could be ready-to-be-recycled from the library, donated from home, or bought cheaply from a second-hand bookstore.
Extension: to hide the existing book cover and complete the feather design, students sketch or screen print feathers onto a blank paper dustjacket. Display these around the picture book The Feather.
Read the shortlisted picture book, Cicada. How does the ending of The Feather resemble the ending of Cicada? Read Look, a Book! illustrated by Freya Blackwood. How are the characters in these books similar? Read other books by Freya Blackwood and Margaret Wild, particularly The Treasure Box and Harry & Hopper, which they both created. Read Feathers by Phil Cummings & Phil Lesnie.
Margaret Wild is also shortlisted for Chalk Boy this year.