Review: A Gift of Feathers

A Gift of Feathers

by Ken Schept, illustrated by Romina Galotta

Feiwel & Friends (imprint of Macmillan), 2023

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Dena Bach

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In his debut picture book, Ken Schept creates a sensitive and age-appropriate template for young children to process their feelings at the loss of someone close to them. In the metaphor of birds and feathers woven through the narrative and the illustrations, Schept and illustrator Romina Galotta present a concrete way for the protagonist, her sister, and readers to process many complicated emotions. 
When Talula finds the drive to the city to visit Grandma Dot boring, wondering how birds can live there, loving pigeons show us how. Grandma Dot keeps a vase of feathers on a table near her door. According to Talula, the young narrator, these feathers resemble her beloved grandmother. Grandma Dot’s feathers give Talula and her sister Rhea ways to play and interact with their grandmother as she talks about her own life. Grandma Dot explains to the children, as well as the readers, that the feathers can help them think about and remember those they love, saying “Every time I find a feather, I think about my parents watching over me.” This helps the children remember and grieve for Grandma Dot when she herself dies. 

In the immersive, often bird’s-eye-view illustrations by Romina Galotta, the muted grays and browns of the backgrounds and feathers contrast with the warmer colors in the images of the children, Grandma Dot, and Dot’s pearls and bangle talismans. This juxtaposition emphasizes for the readers that though the children’s grief may feel dark, their grandmother is still with them, watching over them, through their bright memories or her.

Through the eyes of the child narrator, the story includes some Jewish mourning rituals. The Jewish custom of the mourners shoveling dirt over the grave as a final act of honor to the dead is paralleled in Talula’s burial of her favorite chicken and in the flying flock of geese. The light of a memorial candle lit by their father at the yahrzeit, the yearly anniversary of the death, is reflected in the feathers that the children use for their yahrzeit commemoration. Though the words of the mourner’s kaddish are traditionally said with a minyan, ten worshippers, the narrator's father’s whispered prayer reminds the children of their own memories of their beloved Grandma Dot. This book adds to the canon of several fine Jewish picture books about grief, a material, child-centered way of continuing the conversation about how to process, remember, and memorialize the loss of someone close. Though the narrative presents Jewish ways of mourning, both Jewish and non-Jewish readers can relate to the central concept of honoring those we cherish through our memories.
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Reviewer Dena Bach studied Illustration at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and has an MA/MFA in Children’s Literature and Writing for Children from Simmons University. Currently the illustration editor of The Shmooze, she has worked as a fine artist, calligrapher, illustrator, art director, writer, bookkeeper, bookseller, and a teacher of children from ages 2 to14. No matter how many children’s books she reads a day, the magical pile of books on her bedside table never seems to get any smaller.


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