The Cleo Stories

Written by Libby Gleeson / Published by Allen & Uniwn

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This is a story about hope, kindness and redemption set in a grey dystopian world. When a great feather drifts from the leaden sky, two children recognise its extraordinariness and take it to the village for its protection. The villagers, however, want to encase it, upon which the feather loses its radiance. The children take it home and care for it through the night. In the morning it is again radiant, and when they set it free it leaves behind the first signs of blue sky and colour. The ambiguous ending invites multiple interpretations about the effects of selflessness and kindness.

 
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Books and Publishing review

This exquisite and affecting allegory is another masterful Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood collaboration that is greater than the sum of its parts. Similar to the pair’s previous book, The Treasure BoxThe Feather refuses to sanitise a world where darkness and sadness are a reality for so many. The setting is an anonymous ‘every-village’ that is grey with lost hopes (‘Do you remember that?’ asks a townsperson, speaking of sunlight through windows). The bleakness could be post-war, post-apocalyptic or simply the result of hard times; only tiny hints are offered. Young Maria and Nico find a mysterious giant white feather—an incongruously ‘serene and joyous’ object of unknown provenance. They become its guardians in a world where the adults are towering doctors, lawyers and officials whose theories on how to protect this emblem of freedom and possibility are simply wrong. Their suggestions literally contaminate and blacken the feather. Only the children’s dreams can revive and release it. The story remains resolutely open-ended, allowing wide scope for its themes. With sparse narrative and darkly cinematic full-page images, The Feather may overwhelm young audiences, but will prompt deep discussions with older children about world events, emotion and symbolism.

Anica Boulanger-Mashberg is a freelance editor and writer, and a bookseller at the Hobart Bookshop

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