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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Gone Again, Ptarmigan

Reviewed: May 23, 2003
By: Story by Jonathan London, illustrated by Jon Van Zyle
Publisher: National Geographic Society
32 Pages, $24.95

In Gone Again, Ptarmigan, London and Van Zyle capture a full cycle of the seasons of the north by focussing on the activities of the ptarmigan. or snow grouse.

Each two page spread is a stage in the ptarmigan’s annual migration pattern, and also an encounter with some sort of furry death which might have closed in on the lucky birds if something else hadn’t been taken first.

The story begins in winter, when a lynx has to chose between a snowshoe hair and a snow-coloured ptarmigan, which explodes from hiding in a startling whirl of flakes and feathers. In fairly short order the members of the flock have been menaced by and have escaped an owl, a weasel, a wolverine, a grizzly, a fox and another wolf, each predator representing another stage in the birds’ annual cycle.

Every section ends with the words from the title, which become a kind of chant as each danger is left behind.

Inset paintings on some of the pages show details or may reveal some other creature we hadn’t noticed. The final double page at the end of the story is a naturalist’s account of the Alaska’s official state bird. A map shows where it lives and the text explains some of the movement and colour changes that happen in the story.

The text has that repetitive flavour which works so well in this kind of story, and the illustrations are both naturalistic and full of feeling.

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