Aviary Wonders Inc., Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual, by Kate Samworth, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (http://www.hmhco.com), 2014, 32 pages, $17.99
In Kate Samworth’s debut children’s book, the world has stumbled into a dark future fantasy where deforestation has brought birds to the edge of extinction, and Aviary Wonders Inc. visionary Alfred Wallis (surely no relation to Alfred Russel Wallace) has mass-manufactured a solution – a build-a-bird catalogue (and instruction manual). In the spirit of the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalogs from the days of old, Aviary Wonders Inc. encourages nostalgic nature lovers of the future to create their own birds from hand-crafted parts lovingly shaped and detailed by world-class artisans around the globe. From feathers fletched in 100% Indian silk to hand-tooled Italian leather legs, this spring catalogue is a veritable bird buffet of ready-to-assemble parts.
Told tongue in cheek through dark, exotic copy reminiscent of the J. Peterman Company, Samworth marshals the absurd to drive home how irreplaceable birds are. But in doing so, the dark comedy hits a little too close to home. Rightfully so, the screw-on legs, the gaudy-tacky feathers, the Celtic scrollwork-tooled beaks, and the buckle-and-strap crest and beak harnesses are all too alien to make peace with. Children who aren’t bedazzled by the playful presentation and silly premise may instead find it simply alienating (naked birds without beaks and feet). Hopefully, parents will take advantage of any discomfort and channel it into conversations about extinction and conservation, the hidden message in this post-cataclysmic catalogue.