The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

Feathers Not Just for Flying

 Feathers Not Just for Flying
Written by Melissa Stewart
Illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen
Published by Charlesbridge in 2014
ISBN 978-781580894319
Book Review
Feathers can warm like a blanket… or cushion like a pillow.” Replete with helpful similes, Melissa Stewart’s nonfiction picture book explores the versatility of bird plumage. While the main text uses devices of comparison to explore the functionality of feathers (for example, temperature control, grooming, mate attraction, and mobility on land, water, and air), a secondary text on each page provides a species-specific example that further explicates feathers’ roles. Feathers are compared to objects that will be familiar to students, such as a backhoe, a life jacket, and jewelry. The featured bird species span the continents. Illustrator Sarah S. Brannen adopts a scrapbook style to depict each featured bird in its habitat. Paper clips, pins, and tape rendered in watercolor hold images of birds, feathers, and habitats, as well as ‘hand-written’ notes that comprise the secondary text. This beautiful concept book offers a detailed and vividly depicted exploration of birds’ adaptations and holds many possibilities for classroom exploration in both science and language arts.
Teaching Invitations: Ideas for Your Classroom
Grades K – 8
Local Bird Guide. Have students select birds you can find in your community that they would like to research in greater detail. Students may do this individually, in pairs, or small groups. Read Look up! Bird Watching in Your Own Back Yard by Annette Cate for inspiration. Work with students to create a guide for observing birds in your area. Have students convey what they believe is most important to share about their bird. Ask your public library to display students’ finished work.
Nature Journals. Illustrator Sarah S. Brannen chose to adopt a scrapbooking style in Feathers Not Just For Flying. Offer your students time to document their own explorations of nature in this format, providing sketching materials, digital cameras, and various fasteners to attach actual artifacts so that each student can create a personal nature journal. You may want to study Mark Hearld’s mixed media illustrations in Nicola Davies’s Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature for additional inspiration.

New Bird Books: Nonfiction Text Structures. Read Feathers Not Just For Flying along with three other recent nonfiction titles featuring birds: Jorey Hurley’s Nest, Jennifer Ward’s Mama Built a Little Nest, and Rita Gray’s Have You Heard the Nesting Bird? After reading and enjoying the texts and illustrations, reread the books to examine the nonfiction text structures and strategies for conveying information used by these authors. You may find our Classroom Bookshelf entry on nonfiction helpful in this process. Discuss the choices made by these authors and illustrators in terms of focus, organization, format, language use, and illustration. These discussions will support students’ development of skills and strategies as nonfiction writers.
Grades 2 – 8
Concept Book. Duet Model with Beaks. With its in depth and specific focus on bird feathers and their functions, Feathers Not Just For Flying is an example of the subgenre of nonfiction known as Specialized Nonfiction. Compare the writing and styles and organizational structure of this book with Beaksby Sneed B. Collard, III, reading the two titles in a Duet Model (see our Teaching with Text Sets entry). There are subtle differences between these two examples of nonfiction concept books, as well as many similarities to discuss. Following this comparison exercise, invite students to research and write about bird feet types, using these two texts as models.
Similes Metaphors in Science Writing. Authors of nonfiction often use similes and metaphors to help readers better understand and/ or visualize the scientific concepts they want to convey in their writing. Melissa Stewart employs this technique through Feathers Not Just for Flying (hear Melissa describe this technique in her video on YouTube). Record several of these metaphors on a large piece of chart paper. Read aloud another science trade book in which the author uses similes and metaphors, such as Big Blue Whale by Nicola Davies. Ask students to identify the similes and metaphors in the book and to record them on chart paper. Add to this chart over a period of a couple of weeks as students collect additional examples from their reading. Invite students to use metaphors to enliven and improve the clarity of their nonfiction writing.
Bird Poetry. After discussing the role similes and metaphors can play in conveying nonfiction information (see activity above), turn to an examination of the roles these devices can play in poetry. Read a selection of picture book collections of bird poetry, such as Deborah Ruddell’s Today at the Bluebird Cafe: A Branchful of Birds, Jane Yolen’s Birds of a Feather, and Douglas Florian’s On the Wing: Bird Poems and Paintings. Discuss the nonfiction information conveyed in the poems, compare authors’ writing styles, and consider the effects of the different styles of illustration. Then, invite your students to compose and illustrate their own bird poems!
Grades 3 – 8
Feathers Not Just for Birds?: Exploring the Bird / Dinosaur Connection. After reading, Feathers Not Just for Flying, students may be inspired to learn more about recent discoveries indicating that more dinosaurs may have had feather than scientists had previously thought. Read sections of Catherine Thimmesh’s Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled: How Do We Know What Dinosaurs Really Looked Like?and Nic Bishop’s Digging for Bird-Dinosaurs: An Expedition to Madagascar (noting the ten year gap in copyright dates) along with online resources to support students’ inquiry into scientists’ evolving understandings of the connection between dinosaurs and the birds we see every day.
Community Action
Protecting Birds and Bird Habitats. Melissa Stewart’s book highlights the amazing adaptations birds have accomplished to survive in their particular habitats. Yet, birds face many human threats to their survival. Read Stewart’s A Place for Birds along with Jean Craighead George’s The Eagles Are Backto launch an inquiry into the challenges faced by bird species. Engage students in discussion of birds’ roles in an ecosystem and steps that they can take to protect bird habitats. Invite a local ornithologist or conservationist to discuss ongoing local efforts. Older students may be interested in the story of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker as told by Philip Hoose in The Race to Save the Lord God Bird.
Sarah S. Brannen: Illustrator Website
Melissa Stewart: Author’s Website
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
NY Times Topics: Birdwatching
Audubon Society
Journey North: American Robin
American Birding Association
American Ornithologists’ Union
American Museum of Natural History
Search for “Dinosaurs with Feathers”
Fernbrook Science Center: Bird Feet
YouTube Video: Melissa Stewart: Similes in Feathers Not Just For Flying
Bishop, N. (2000). Digging for bird-dinosaurs: An expedition to Madagascar. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Cate, A.L. (2013). Look up! Bird watching in your own back yard. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Collard, S. (2002). Beaks. Ill. by R. Brickman. Cambridge, MA; Charlesbridge.
Davies, J. (2004). The boy who drew birds: A story of John James Audubon. Ill. by M. Sweet. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Davies, N. (2012). Outside your window: A child’s first book of nature. Ill. by Mark Hearld. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Davies, N. (1997). Big blue whale. Ill. by N. Maland. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
Florian, D. (1996). On the wing: Bird poems and paintings. New York: Harcourt.
George, J.C. (2013). The eagles are back. Ill. by W. Minor. New York: Dial.
Gray, R. (2014). Have you heard the nesting bird?Ill. by K. Pak. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Hurley, J. (2014). Nest. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Henkes, K. (2009). Birds. Ill. by L. Dronzek. New York: Greenwillow.
Hoose, P. (2004/2014 updated). The race to save the Lord God bird. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.
Judge, L. (2012). Bird talk: What birds are saying and why. New York. Roaring Brook Press.
Ruddell, D. (2007). Today at the Bluebird Cafe: A branchful of birds. Ill. by J. Rankin. New York: Margaret K. McElderry.
Stewart, M. (2009). A place for birds. Ill. by H. Bond. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.
Thimmesh (2013). Scaly spotted feathered frilled: How do we know what dinosaurs really looked like? Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Ward, J. (2014). Mama built a little nest. Ill. by S. Jenkins. New York: Beach Lane Books.
Yolen, J. (2011). Birds of a feather. Ill. by J. Stemple. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong Poetry.

Erika Thulin Dawes About Erika Thulin Dawes

Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.