CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 30 . . . . April 8, 2011
There is a subtle depth of meaning in Cybèle Young's counting picturebook, Ten Birds. Like any genre, counting books carry with them certain expectations: to be undemanding, colourful and easily managed. Ten Birds defies all of these expectations delightfully, and in doing so, offers both a new way of counting, and of looking. Intelligent and beautifully produced, Ten Birds is an elegant example of the artistic and literary range the picturebook format allows.
The illustrations consist of black fine-lined, monochromatic pen and ink drawings on an ivory background. Because of the lack of colour, it is the intricacies of the lines that communicate emotion and narrative - quite a feat. The fable is seemingly set on the edge of the world; the curve of the stark landscape and the stars reflecting off the water lend both an otherworldly, yet familiar tone.
This succinct tale follows 10 inventive little birds as they endeavour to make their way across the water. The structure of the fable and the comfort of the descending numbers give a satisfying feel to the otherwise unexpected sequence of events. The form of the fable invites the reader to build a set of expectations: to laugh, to discover, and to be surprised. Young strikes a fine balance between the known and unknown.
Like the images and plot, the language is equal parts sophisticated and effortless. The numbers in the text are shown in CAPS, easy to attend to and paired with a visual representation of the same number in the illustrations. These numbers, which are composed of found objects such as a cluster of balloons and planks of wood, serve to get the little birds across the river by means of their construction and deconstruction. The bird they call "Magnificent" discovers he can create a kite out of the rope and stick he finds as a haphazard number 7.
Ten Birds reminds experienced and inexperienced viewers alike that the world is full of humorous contradictions, and that this is not to be lamented, but enjoyed. Ten Birds is a pleasure to read and re-read, which is a lucky thing since it will be asked for again and again. It is truly a tale for all ages, a delight for anyone who finds pleasure in looking closely.
Lara LeMoal is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Children's Literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.
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