THE WEATHERBIRDS. By Ted Dewan. Viking. pound;12.99
A motley crew of friendly birds - Professor Stork, Elmer the Dodo ("People think dodos are extinct, but here I am, alive and kicking"), Captain Goose and Ariel the Parrot - embark on an odyssey to Costa Rica, the parrot's homeland in Ted Dewan's book The Weatherbirds. They travel in the very homemade airship, "Mercury". On the way, they encounter all kinds of weather. "We were tossed over the Alps on some speedy winds. The valleys were still green, but there was snow on top of the mountains even though it was only the end of October."
The story of the birds' journeyruns through the book, a chunk on each double page. The rest of each spread is taken up by more factual material about the weather in each area - mountains, desert, coasts - mostly presented as questions and answers between the birds. Particular weather features - clouds, winds, hurricanes, tornadoes - are similarly dealt with. There are also some simple weather experiments - about evaporation, for example.
Each spread is dominated by Ted Dewan's lovely illustrations, which have both fine detail and exciting panoramas - there is an excellent wide-angle Manhattan skyline for example, with "Mercury" about to be moored to the top of the Empire State Building.
The mix of fiction and non-fiction, says Ted Dewan, is intended to overcome the less-than-exciting nature of unadorned weather facts. "I wanted to bridge that fictionnon fiction gap," he says. "I wanted to confound the librarians!" Each of the birds brings a particular slant to the discussion - the stork sets out to educate the sparrow, for example, and Elmer adds a note of old-fashioned doubt about most of the things that go on. It is a device, says Ted Dewan, borrowed from Galileo who, in his Dialogue, explained his beliefs about the universe in a similar way.
There are so many good things about this book. The story alone is enough to hold the attention of a readership that could extend from mid-juniors to lower secondary. The dialogue has some good child-friendly touches - "Dodo?" piped the Albatross. "I thought you Dodo dudes were gonzo, man!" The factual information is exhaustive, and it does what many books about the weather at this level fail to do, in that it does not just explain the mechanisms driving the weather of our islands, but presents a global view, appropriate to a generation of children accustomed to seeing images and landscapes from all over the world. A book to read, a book for reference, a book to enjoy for its own sake.