‘Feathers’ is a simple story of the sandpiper bird’s migration from East Asia to Australia. Phil Cummings based ‘Feathers’ on devastated countries that the sandpiper’s migratory pattern passes over. These include China and its earthquake in August 2014; Myanmar, with its civil unrest; and Cambodia, often besieged by floods and droughts.
Simultaneously ‘Feathers’ is a symbol of hope, about the resilience of the human spirit, the importance of home and a safe place to live. As the sandpiper makes its long journey, single feathers fall upon a child living below: a boy in an earthquake ravaged village; a child in a fleeing refugee family, children in flooding waters with a tiny boat adorned with a feather sail. In each case, the feather is treated as a special gift that lightens moments of despair and gives hope for the future.
‘Feathers’ has a lyrical text with evocative figurative language that invites imaginations to soar like the feather in this story. Phil Lesnie’s pencil, watercolour and gouache are a perfect medium for this story with its detailed landscapes from perspectives above and human endeavours featured in perspectives below.
These landscapes are particularly captivating where Cummings’ words feature strong figurative language that works in tandem with the art. For example, the sandpiper ‘flew through long nights where the spit of gunfire bit into the darkness’ or the sandpiper ‘flew low over fleeing families walking in lines like ants.’ In each scenario people are struggling until the conclusion when the feather is captured by a girl who feels ‘lucky.’
The soaring flights reflected in the endpapers take the viewer on the sandpiper’s journey to that final satisfying moment when sandpiper ended the journey and ‘rested at the water’s edge … safe and warm.’ One last feather is caught by young Mia who considers herself ‘lucky.’ Feathers dropped earlier have shown people in times of distress, seeking a better future. The final feather landing in a young child’s safe and happy home is a satisfying conclusion.
‘Feathers’ was shortlisted in the Children’s category of the Prime Minister’s Award in 2018.