Shulman, Mark. illus. by Vincent Nguyen. Louis the Dodo. Union Square Kids, 2005. ISBN 978-1402728723 36 pp. $
Loner birdwatcher Louis understands friendship. And so do his feathered companions that come to his aid when he decides to rescue a hostage dodo. It’s a lovely plot, but poor writing and worse editing don’t save the lofty premise from plummeting.
Transitions are abrupt. The author mentions specific characters, objects and situations as if the reader is already cognizant of them: “the moonfaced clown,” (rather than “a moonfaced clown”) and “on that day” (which day?). A key that unlocks all doors appears conveniently. The editors failed to catch misuse of the homonym wearily/warily–the mistreated dodo is timid and frightened, not tired.
The illustrations are wondrous, beautifully composed in bright colors and soft edges with varying perspectives. The attention to detail of various bird species is marvelous. The images extend the text in the first pages, with the author admirably leaving choices to the artist to show “helping,” “protecting,” and “being brave.” But then a “dark and cold and strange” circus is portrayed with bright primary colors inside and out, and some of the enemy clowns are also dressed as birds (like our hero), sending contradictory messages.
The design is uneven, with text extending to both pages in most spreads, but only to one in others, leaving glaring white gaps; in the final spread, the text takes up half the page. Sometimes the illustrations extend to the page edges, and other times, there is a white border. While this works for Sendak’s classic Where The Wild Things Are (Harper 1964), the effect is inappropriate, unwarranted and therefore ineffective.
Suspension of disbelief worked for the birds bringing Louis to the circus and attacking the mean clowns; leaving a return venue for Louis doesn’t allow him to grow as a character. The magical resolution further flaws this poorly executed story.