cover image The Silent Spillbills

The Silent Spillbills

Tor Seidler. HarperCollins Publishers, $14.95 (216pp) ISBN 978-0-06-205180-6

Featuring a flock of rare diving birds called Spillbills, Seidler's (Mean Margaret; The Wainscott Weasel) latest offering for animal lovers is constructed with mixed success. Readers will empathize with his tenderhearted bird-loving heroine, 13-year-old Katerina Farnsworth, and may well be entertained by other boldly drawn characters: her renowned German psychiatrist mother; her famous father, president of Farnsworth Aeronautics; and rich, nasty Grandfather Farnsworth, the founder of the business. However, too many tangential conflicts muddy the central issue of Katerina's crusade to save the Spillbills, whose dramatic vertical flight pattern inspires the invention of the ""Spillbill Z"" aircraft. Reputed as being ""stuck-up,"" Katerina has trouble fitting in at her new school and is extremely self-conscious about her stuttering problem. Then, shortly after Katerina's father lifts off to test a new space station, the family loses communication with him. Next, one of their friends, a test pilot, is killed in a Spillbill Z plane crash and the Spillbills themselves are blamed for the accident. Katerina's environmental efforts are valiant and sincere, but ultimately, it is an eloquent speech given by her mother that proves most effective in preserving the birds' habitat. The other concerns plaguing the heroine are neatly ironed out in a 15-page epilogue. Despite its structural flaws this highly imaginative novel offers suspense and offbeat humor. Young nature enthusiasts will likely want to see more of Katerina and her eccentric family. Ages 8-12. (Nov.)