cover image Doctor Bird

Doctor Bird

Gerald Hausman. Philomel Books, $15.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-399-22744-8

The Doctor Bird is a rainbow-winged, streamer-tailed hummingbird that lives only in Jamaica--and is that West Indian island's beloved national bird. Here, in a trio of wordy folktales, a top-hatted Doctor Bird uses magical powers plus his own wisdom to teach other creatures important lessons. Working in her characteristic combination of black gesso and rich gouaches, Wolff (previously paired with Hausman for How Chipmunk Got Tiny Feet) features lush foliage and exotic lizards and monkeys in dark outline and deep, crepuscular colors. One page might vividly illustrate a scene from the story (e.g., Doctor Bird teaches Mongoose not to steal by subjecting her house to an onslaught of disturbances, ending in a snowstorm) while an inset on the facing page amplifies details (Mongoose pours her delicious hibiscus tea to sweeten up Doctor Bird). Each tale ends with the tag: ""And if this story isn't true, let the keeper of heaven's door say so now."" Yet the messages are muddy. Mongoose, for example, reverts to ""the way she always was, is, and forever will be""; the only difference is that she now returns what she ""borrows"" whenever it snows. While the folksy rhythms of the sentences and occasional vernacular words add charm and authenticity (""he was going to hoo-doo all the people at the Guango party""), the text ambles and characterization is weak. Overall, the writing is not the equal of the intriguing, lively art. Ages 5-up. (May)