Jesus Christ Superstar: Live in Concert

2018. 100 minutes. unrated.
available on Hulu.

“The end…/Is just a little harder when brought about by friends.”

Remember when movies used to air on television just once a year and it was a super special event? The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, the Ten Commandments (which aired annually at Easter, if I recall). This year, NBC aired a live-in-concert version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s phenomenal rock opera (defined as such because it is sung through with very little dialogue and the musical style is heavily influenced by 1970’s rock n roll). As a (recovering) Catholic on the path to a conversion to Judaism, I see this story through multiple lenses now (Was Jesus a rabbi? Is the Catholic catechism I grew up with that the Jews killed Jesus true? Was the Last Supper actually a Passover seder?)

For those unfamiliar with the plot, Jesus Christ Superstar follows the last week of the life of Jesus the Christ (Greek for the anointed or chosen one), who has created a following in the last three years by preaching love and acceptance while living amongst the downtrodden: lepers, prostitutes, the poor. Webber’s musical humanizes Jesus and develops dynamic interpersonal relationships; perhaps most sympathetically, Jesus is aware he is coming to the end of his life and will soon die; he is portrayed as becoming increasingly overwhelmed with his lot and nearly subsumed by the many coming to him for help as well as those who seem intent on disrupting Roman rule in his name.

It’s a tradition for JCS productions to be set in a modern era. This cast is clothed mostly in modern day rags (ripped jeans, mult-layered and texured fabrics, sneakers) or black leather and tattoos, Jesus (John Legend) stands out in white and grey, modestly covered through most of the show, while former prostitute Mary Magdelene (Sara Barielles) stands out in rust and orange, with her hair down, looking less done up than the other urbanized female cast members. The baddies are discernible by their black, hooded, floor-length capes and leather gloves.

Far from being just a concert, the show is staged with full blocking. The cast is in near-constant motion. Strikingly, the musicians are part of the cast, playing and dancing, delivering solos and then re-joining the ensemble. The location is a warehouse with walls painted with frescos. Much use is made of scaffolding on the perimeter, it houses the full orchestra in the round and is a place for the ensemble to retreat to when not center stage. Perhaps is it the lack of props (the only one I noticed was the 30 pieces of silver–presumably–wrapped in blood-red cloth) that makes it not a true stage production?

ACT I

An arresting guitar riff opens the show, followed by haunting woodwinds. A table is dismantled, a white tablecloth is vandalized with blood-red wine, a brazier is lit with a torch, and raucous music, strobe lights and dancing ensue. Someone spray-paints “JESUS” (in blood-red letter) across a wall and it splits apart moments later for Jesus to walk through. The cheering of the audience when Jesus arrives made it feel participatory. As Jesus fellowships with his followers, he also plays to the crowd, which feeds into the concept of his rise to popularity. Not all pop stars have a voice for the stage, but Legend pulls off the range of notes–and the acting–with excellent control and expression.

Judas (the real star here, honestly, is Tony award winner Brandon Victor Dixon), clad in blood-red under his leather vest, arrives to expound on whether Jesus really believes that he is the son of god, and warns, as his right-hand man, the conception of Jesus and his followers that Jesus is the Messiah (the promised deliverer of the Jewish nation prophesied in the Torah) may be an unrealistic expectation (“Heaven on their Minds”). Dixon’s energy, emotion and passion as Judas is simply unparalleled.

The followers want to know what’s next, and Jesus asks them to be mindful-focus on today as they demand “When do we ride into Jerusalem?” (“What’s the Buzz?”). Mary Magdalene intercedes to soothe Jesus’ frustration. She serves as his respite from the crowds (“Everything’s Alright”), which Judas judges (“Strange Thing/Mystifying”). Jesus is quick to ask why he is criticizing, “If your slate is clean you can throw stones/ but if your slate is not, then leave her alone.” Jesus accusers his followers of not caring about him, they reassure him that’s not true, and Judas criticizes again, saying that they are wasting money on self-care for Jesus when they could have been feeding the hungry. 

We cut to a meeting of Jewish high priests, who determine that Jesus is dangerous–a threat to Roman rule and to their priesthood (and power) as they know it. Head honchos Annas (Jin Ha) and Caiaphas (masterfully portrayed by Norm Lewis) is convinced they must crush Jesus completely, and as with John the Baptist, eliminate him (“This Jesus Must Die”).

Caiaphas asks Jesus to disperse the crowd. Instead, he further agitates, inviting the audience to clap along. Disciples wave white scarves, a mark of their devotion, and elevate Jesus to a tabletop. We see the lighting, warm with candlelight and fire during “Hosanna,” masterfully take a turn to blue as the mood shifts in “Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem.” Simon (Erik Gronwell) encourages Jesus to redirect some of his love into hate for “filthy” Rome. Legend’s voice is haunting in falsetto in his response to Simon’s misdirected vision of power and glory.

Meanwhile, the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate (Ben Daniels)-splendidly outfitted in a maroon velvet and leather suit and gold vest–appears in a doorway next to a PROFIT sign and details his prophetic (get it?) dream of a meeting a Galilean who is set upon and murdered by haters, leaving Pilate the blame (“Pilate’s Dream”).

Now in Jerusalem, Jesus clears the temple of a motley crew of greedy, lustful sinners (“The Temple”) who have turned his house of prayer into a den of thieves. Disheartened, he displays his weariness–the last three years have seemed like thirty. As he is reflecting, the afflicted who believe he can heal with his touch come to ask to be mended. Though he is increasingly overwhelmed by their numbers and demands, Jesus obliges. Mary comes to comfort him again (Everything’s Alright reprise”) (Barielles’ voice is so pure and effortless. She earned her Broadway chops in Waitress, and doesn’t miss an expression or a note). Clearly, she is in love with the man, not the savior. Although rabbis were (and still are) allowed to marry, it is clear to her that she must not divulge her emotions; Jesus is meant for a higher calling (I Don’t Know How to Love Him”) then simply her love.

Judas goes to the high priests to ask for their help in stopping Jesus–he knows things are out of control and seems sincere in believing he is acting in Jesus’s best interests (“Blood Money”) even as he recognizes the only solution is to neutralize him. He begs to be absolved, and the priests assure him they already have everything they need to arrest Jesus. In spite of protests that he doesn’t want a reward or blood money, Judas accepts his fee for services rendered and so then discloses the location where the soldiers can capture Jesus on Thursday evening. Dixon portrays his internal conflict very well through voice, facial expression and body language as a refrain of “poor old Judas” echoes around him.

ACT II

The apostles gather for a special meal (or Passover dinner –no matzo, no bitter herbs, no four questions), resetting the dismantled table from Act 1, complete with the (blood-red) wine-stained cloth. “The Last Supper”). All don their scarves, cladding themselves in white like Jesus, a nice touch that set them apart for the remainder of the production. Jesus criticizes his apostles, and states one will deny him and another betray him. Jesus already knows Judas is the betrayer and tries to send him away to do it (it’s unclear if he’s aware it’s already been done). It’s the excuse Judas needs, maybe: to not be believed, mistrusted, despised, he so he can justify his behavior. He exits, discarding his scarf. Whether these choices are the director or actor, the symbolism is not lost.

The communion is replicated (but not the stances from the Last Supper painting) but dinner disrupted as Jesus says again that none will stand by him. He invites his disciples to join him in a night of prayer, but none remain awake to daven with him. Jesus sits with a bottle of wine and prays in the garden for this cup to pass him by, be it God’s will, not his (“Gethsemane”). Legend’s voice is particularly beautiful on this number. Judas returns, and with a kiss–which Jesus responds to with a loving hug– betrays him. The priest’s soldiers wrestle Judas and Jesus apart and cuff Jesus, hustling him away

As they escort Jesus to Governor Pilate to be judged, modern paparazzi scream questions and accusations, and at one point, the camera angle is tight as the feed switches to one of the paparazzi’s cameras. One benefit to the screen version is having cameras in 360degree rotation on multiple planes. Panning the crowd, picking out what the audience/viewer should be focusing on, long shots from the scaffolding, shots looking down from above and up shots to the ceiling: all add more direction and dimension to the storytelling. At no point is it more effective than in this number (“The Arrest”).  The soldiers bring Jesus back to the high priests. He responds to the accusations from Caiaphas and Annas with “that’s what you say!” The soldiers, accompanied now by a mob, move Jesus on to Pilate.

As they go, Apostle Peter (Jason Lam) attempts to distance himself by lingering behind, removing his scarf. He is confronted by various people asking if he was one of the ones with Jesus; the last one even waves a cell phone with photo proof. As predicted, Peter denies his association three times, holding his scarf that marks him a disciple all the while (“Peter’s Denial”). Mary confirms that Peter has done just as Jesus predicted.

While the multicultural cast is a sign of the times (and it is especially gratifying to see both female apostles and a non-white Jesus, it would be nice if the female lead was also a better fit for time and place. That’s not to say Barielles is not outstanding–she is–but it would have been impressive to go with an non-white actress here as well). Incidentally, the choice of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed (Aryan) Pilate to spit out a contemptuous emphasis of Jesus as King of the Jews is a not a little disconcerting (“Pilate and Christ”). Annas is equally chilly throughout.

Pilate, perhaps in an effort to absolve himself, sends Jesus to King Herod (Alice Cooper) who doesn’t take full advantage of the showmanship of the song, even though he is backed up a killer suit (a skull topped cane is a nice touch), burlesque dancers and a 1920’s musical styling (“King Herod’s Song”). His performance starts out a bit wooden, but he plays to the crowd a bit and maybe that gives him the energy he needs for the rest of the performance. In my opinion, he does not deserve the top billing he received. 

Mary and Peter get a brand new duet (reminiscent of the extra song written for Madonna when Evita was brought to screen in 1996). Mary and Peter sing “I think you’ve made your point now/You’ve even gone a bit too far to get your message home/Before it gets too frightening, we ought to call a halt,” but of course, it’s too late. (Can We Start Again) There is no ceasing or going back in time, and the two stand in a sea of discarded white scarves.

Judas, clad now only in his (yep, blood-red) tank top, becomes stunningly aware of what the future brings, is overcome with guilt. Annas and Caiaphas return to tell him to stop sniveling. “What you have done will be saving the Israel / You’ll be remembered forever for this” (well, part of that is true). They leave him to his remorse, and Judas — Dixon — painfully, gorgeously reprises “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” Judas goes from still convinced he was just a man to doubting he did the right thing he becomes increasingly agitated and then decides it’s Jesus’s fault he has been spattered with innocent blood. While accusing Jesus of murder, he knots the abandoned scarves into a rope, ascends up the scaffolding through a lit opening and then out of sight. He climbs the last ladder, kicks it away, and we don’t need to see dangling feet to understand he has committed suicide by hanging (“Judas’s Death”). Silver glitter rains down to another chorus of “poor old Judas” before we cut to black.

Caiaphas and Annas reappear with their prisoner before Pilate, and insist Jesus must be crucified. Pilate appeals to Jesus to denounce his claims that he is King of the Jews (even though he keeps saying he is not the one perpetuating this rumor). The crowd chants, “Crucify him! We have no king but Caesar” (opposing the “King of the Jews” epitaph that has been bestowed). Pilate looks Jesus in the eyes and determines he is simply a harmless madman, and should be locked up, but there is no reason to kill him. The crowds arousals makes Pilate increasingly hysterical and he acquiesces to delivering a dramatic whipping of 40 lashes. He begs Jesus to tell him what he wants, warning him to be careful, but Jesus doesn’t stand up for himself–he has already accepted his fate–and the mob is overwhelming. Pilate’s attempt to pass off what has been prophesized fails and he washes his hands of Jesus, condemning him to death. Jesus is lifted, feet together and arms outstretched in a crucifix position, and carried away in a solo spotlight. 

Judas reappears, clad in (angelic?) silver sequins (reminded me of the dreamy “Beauty School Dropout” number in the film production of Grease), to say that the whole thing could have been avoided (“Jesus Christ Superstar”). The ensemble is in remarkable lock-step for this particular song and dance number.

In the final scene, Jesus is hung on a cross, wreathed in thorns and covered in blood, while his disciples stand vigil until it is done. (“The Crucifixion”). Jesus dies (“John Nineteen: Forty-One”). As the cross dramatically ascends into a blazing light, the disciples sit or kneel, the Magdelene cries, and the walls part to reveal a cross, and we fade to white.

I watched this twice, through I thought it was excellent, and think it was well-staged, well-directed, thoughtfully costumed and designed, and hope it gets more viewership on Hulu than the 9.4 million households that tuned in to watch it live on Easter Sunday 2018.

The Virtual Life of Lexie Diamond by Victoria Foyt

Lexie is a self-proclaimed girl gearhead, here defined not as a car nut or gadget geek, but a computer addict who has forsaken a real life for the Internet. When her mother, a psychologist, is killed in a car accident, Lexie suspects foul play, and is convinced her Mac may have answers. Her dad is too taken with a new girlfriend to pay much attention to Lexie’s crackpot murder theories, so she turns to the ‘net — and some new friends — for assistance. 

To reflect Lexie’s personality and disillusionment with people, the author used a mixed metaphor of the protagonist alternately as an intergalactic anthropologist alien, or a highly evolved computer. This is effective in portraying Lexie’s attempts to be an efficient and stoic observer, but left me wondering, well, which does she feel she is? Lexie is stereotypically solitary for a gamer; there is a fair bit of evidence that those who immerse themselves in virtual life are in fact very social through affinity groups online. 

The writing is well-paced and energetic, but the plot is predictable. The author drops enough hints for the reader to figure out the murdered before the heroine, the popular girl ends up as an ally, and the second the cute surfer boy next door shows up and the narrator says surfer and gearheads are incompatible, you know who her mystery friend webrider is… and that he is interested in her more than platonically.

While the story is unique, and the mix of technology and spirituality dynamic and original, there are so many technical mistakes it is nearly impossible to suspend one’s disbelief at the ghosts in the machine concept. Certainly, there is a lag between manuscript and publication, but the book appears very dates because of the following: Lexie primarily uses email to communicate, not IM; she connects via modem, not cable (a geek girl would be pushing for cable access!), but is able to quickly download a song sent via email, on dialup;  she calls games CD-ROMS; she is delighted with a Game Boy (not the newest Nintendo portable), which she calls an e-toy (they are not Internet enabled); she confuses links with search strings and metatags. Finally, she installs new RAM with the computer on–RAM must be installed with the machine off and unplugged, and you have to ground yourself to avoid any static discharge that could damage the RAM. All of these errors were so distracting and frustrating it was nearly impossible to enjoy the farfetchedness of the story.

This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog April 16, 2007.

National Geographic Our World, Updated Edition: A Child’s First Picture Atlas by National Geographic Kids

This introduction to continents and countries begins with an orientation session to the concept of a globe, a map, and land characteristics, which is a transition for how to recognize boundaries and landforms on a map. The United States is featured first, then the seven continents. Each oversized two-page spread is peppered DK-style with a mix of images that connote the location, such as bananas, carnival, cowboys and rainforests to represent South America, and rice, bamboo and pandas representing Asia. Every entry is accompanied by the continent, shown in position on a world map; a large political map with country boundaries marked; and a mix of photos and illustrations that show native peoples, a common animals, landmark and attractions, the biome, and some cultural aspect.

The text is simple and straightforward, with a large font. Vocabulary words marked in red and accompanied by a graphic. The layout is lively, with a color coded index, busy pages, and bright clear shapes.

The book concludes with geography projects, such as dialogical reading prompts, for parents to share with children. A “Guess what I am?” activity will have young readers flipping pages to go back and find more icons on the maps. A glossary and pronunciation guide are appended.

This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog August 16, 2006.

Blackbeard the Pirate King by J. Patrick Lewis

Part biography, part legend and all poetry, this picture book defines the famed and feared dread pirate Captain Teach in all his swashbuckling glory. “Apprentice Pirate” tells of Teach’s early life, while “In the Wake of the Sloops” details spoils of plundered merchant ships in luxurious detail. Lewis conveys the romance of the high seas with vivacity and drama from the first (“…Teach heard them call longingly–/the sirens of the sea”) to the last (“…As he staggered, bloody, lifeless, to the boards”).

Occasionally, the rhyme scheme stretches the meter to discomfort, as in “The Queen Anne’s Revenge:”  “‘The Brethren of the Coast,’” Pirates/No country could contain/loved stealing gold/And seas patrolled–/To a man they hated Spain.” For the most part, Lewis shows mastery of poetic forms and evocative command of language. The sextilla “The Blockade of Charleston” very effectively uses its galloping eight-syllable lines to convey the drama of Blackbeard’s tyrannization of a city for medical supplies.

The poems are accompanied by artist’s renditions of the pirate king. Works by Pyle, Wyeth and Schoonover are interspersed with more contemporary artists such as Farrell and Kelley. The mediums vary delightfully from woodcut to oils to acrylic, and each image seems perfectly matched to the depiction.

A historical footnote sets each tale in context. An author’s note, map and timeline add depth. Illustration credits are noted at the back, and a short bibliography of books and websites offers sources and further reading, making this an exceedingly well-documented volume of poetry. The pirate theme is sure to be popular; purchase to round out your poetry or pirate collection.

This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog August 16, 2006.

An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston, illus. by Sylvia Long

An Egg is Quiet is a rich natural history picture book, celebrating diversity by showcasing over sixty eggs from birds, fish, reptiles, insects and more. Aston’s poetic introduction (“It sits there, under it’s mother’s feathers… on top of it’s father’s feet… buried beneath the sand. Warm. Cozy.”) is the jumping off point for an eggs factapolooza. Eggs are described visually as shapely, colorful, textured, and artistic, with beautifully rendered examples of each. Eggs are also characterized as clever (for camouflage) and giving (for nurturing). Textual asides provide more information about a particular species or trait. Each egg is identified by common name. Dinosaurs and embryos are given a little extra attention.   Eggs pictured larger than actual size are noted, all measurements are given in English and compared to objects children might be familiar with, such as a jellybean.

The paintings are absolutely gorgeous from the lush endpapers patterned after the scarlet tanager egg, to the closeup of a nest with one ready-to-hatch egg. The attention to detail is incredible: twisting branches and vines, patterned stones, and tendrils of grass and leaves augment the pictures and fill in habitat. The design itself is lovely and elegant – a large readable script for the main text, and neatly lettered blurbs that act as field notes with more information.

This is potentially a great book for one-on-one sharing; the images create plenty of opportunity for dialogue, and several activities appear to be built in. The first two-page spread contains every egg found in the book, and the final two page spread shows the adult animal, creating an opportunity for a matching game. Young readers will enjoy also spotting specific eggs identified in the “colorful” spread in other places in the book – a kind of paper egg hunt! The ending invites audience participation.

No sources are cited; the acknowledgements thank an earth scientist, a birder and a biologist. This fine complement to the science curriculum is recommended for public and school libraries.

This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog June 18, 2006.

Mama by Jeanette Winter

Providing a marked contrast to the photo-realism detailed account of the tsunami aftermath presented in Owen & Mzee, Mama is a nearly wordless tale of a hippo rescued after a tsunami that avoids a discussion of grim facts or sobering details and instead uses only artwork to show how the life of a young hippo, Baby, is transformed the day the wave hit. Winter, author of The Librarian of Basra—another story punctuated by death and loss—delivers a message of compassion and hope by merely repeating two emotion laden words: “Mama” and “Baby,” throughout the ordeal. Mama represents the entirety of Baby’s world, and without her, his world is dark and scary.

Acrylic paintings featuring intense shades of green, orange and pink give way to darker blues and purples as Baby struggles to make sense of his new surroundings. Without benefit of text or narrative, the two characters embody love and demonstrate the capacity of all creatures to tender this most basic human behavior. As Baby finds a surrogate parent in an elderly tortoise, a heaven bound image of Mama watches him begin life again. This is a compressed experience that will require some adult storytelling with the 5- to 7-year-olds who will be attracted by its format.

This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog May 31, 2006.

Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Craig & Isabella Hatkoff

 A year and a half after the deadly 2004 tsunami leveled Indian Ocean coastal communities and destroyed wildlife habitats, this picture book recounts an episode following the disaster. Owen & Mzee is billed as the “complete authorized story of two devoted companions,” and allows readers (through extensive photojournalism) to observe the efforts of dedicated relief workers to rescue a baby hippo they later named Owen.

Relying on news reports and interviews, Craig Hatkoff and his six-year-old daughter Isabella continue the saga of the months-old orphaned animal, chronicling his arrival at an animal sanctuary in Kenya and the surprising bond he forms with one of its long-time residents, Mzee, a 130-year-old male tortoise. Extensive notes and maps explore the areas affected by the tsunami and help define key concepts (underwater earthquakes, tsunamis, animal sanctuaries) for 8- to 10-year-old readers who might find some of the material overwhelming or difficult to grasp. However, the rare bonding of young Owen and elderly Mzee, an occurrence that has baffled animal care experts, marks the beginning of life for a new family in a new home, a concept that children can readily embrace.

Color photographs of the distressed baby hippo reflect  the aggressive and physical nature of the animal during his journey to a new home, while later images illustrate his loving and playful personality as he embraces his new family.

This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog May 31, 2006.

Once Upon a Dragon: Stranger Safety for Kids And Dragons by Jean E. Pendziwol, illus. by Martine Gourbault

Using elements from familiar fairy tales, a boy’s dragon friend is transformed into the protagonist of several major fairy tales after they magically become lost in the woods after leaping from a playground swing. Luckily, the boy helps Dragon avoid stranger danger in many forms: straying from the path, taking candy from strangers, accepting rides from strangers. A safe stranger – a friendly fairy godmother – helps them find their way home at the end. The subtext is that the boy in blue always comes to the rescue of the dragon, portrayed more than 50% of the time as female:  Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and Cinderella.

The colorful illustrations, full of whimsical fairy tale detail, have a crayoned texture and delicate shading to them. They literally tell the story, though – little is added, the images simply expound upon the text.

Although the story doesn’t address predatory people who are NOT strangers, the tips at the end do, which allows the story to be a jumping off point for a discussion and plan of action for parent and child. No specific resources or further reading is listed.

This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog May 30, 2006.

Planet Mars (Seemore Readers) by Seymour Simon

This repackaged version of Simon’s Destination Mars (HarperCollins, 2000) is a fact-filled photographic journey to the red planet, updated with the most current Mars research findings. The 32 pages explore the possibility of life on Mars, unmanned scientific missions to the planet, and statistics about it’s size, distance, topography, and satellites. Information for the most part is related simply, comparing Mars’ qualities to Earth counterparts such as Mount Everest and the Grand Canyon. Short straightforward sentences don’t leave enough room to explain or define concepts such as early Rome and it’s polytheistic religion, polar ice caps, or the impact of discovering bacteria fossils in meteorites from Mars. Most words contain fewer than two syllables, and proper names appear with in text pronunciation guides. The levels on the back mark this volume as for readers in grades Pre-K to 1; this seems to be a bit unrealistic.

The text is large and lettering is high contrast for beginning readers, but the design technique of placing a colored block that matches the tones in the photo, rather than contrasts them, give a dull and static tone to the images. The photos, courtesy of NASA and ESA, are beautiful and majestic, but the small format doesn’t do them justice. There are no source notes, glossary, or index–although not traditional in easy readers, this is a work of nonfiction, and should contain a bibliography at the very least. Purchase in paperback.

This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog May 27, 2006.

Sing, Nightingale, Sing! by Francoise de Guilbert, illustrated by Chiaki Miyamoto, music by Daniel Goyone

Organized by habitat–garden, forest, ocean, pond, mountains and zoo–this birding book presents over 50 species common to Europe. Stylized representations with thick lines and bright colors of common owls, gulls and finches are depicted along with more exotic flamingoes, puffins and peacocks. Each image is accompanied by a fact-filled paragraph that gives tips for identification, such as social behaviors, special skills, and preferences for food, sleep, and flight.

Every entry includes colors of plumage and markings, length, beak style, song, diet and nest. The entries are numbered, with the number appearing on a static silhouette. The numbers correspond to tracks on the accompanying CD, which contains the bird songs of nearly every bird detailed in the book. The CD also contains original and lovely inspired compositions by Daniel Goyone that create a duet between bird and piano.

The book is not flawless–a map to show range of each species, or any kind of geographic indication, would make this more useful for report or amateur bird watching. As it’s a European book , many North American species aren’t included: the oriole, cardinal, screech owl, sandpiper, pelican, egret or turkey, just to name a few, and there is no introduction to define the scope of the book. The index is simply an alphabetical list of species.

The graphics are wonderful, however. While it’s true that photos would have made identification impossible to miss, the illustrations are truly fantastic. Miyamoto shows birds in flight, birds close up, and birds together in their habitat. Somehow the artist imbues the characteristics of the breeds into the expressive drawings, so that a warbler looks cheery, and a raptor, predatory.

Perhaps better suited to European purchasers, the book does hold value to American audiences for the artwork, clever facts and companion CD, all for a bargain price of less that the cost of the average picture book.

This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog May 27, 2006.