While snoozing in their boat, Alex and Jo are suddenly awoken by a crying sound drifting on the breeze. They think it’s coming from the professor’s house high in the trees and decide to investigate. They discover from the distraught prof. that although he has saved many rare birds he has failed to find a mate for the rarest of all – the Rainbow Bird – and unless he can do so, the species will die out. The children offer to search and having loaded up The Explorer they set sail on a journey to find the elusive bird. Their quest takes them through thick forest and they ask all manner of birds – House Birds, Big-to-Little Birds, Underwater Birds, Lamp Birds and others if they’ve seen a Rainbow Bird, but to no avail.
Next morning they’re on the point of giving up when Jo spots something perched precariously on a rock just in front of a waterfall. The next thing they know they’re sailing right over the edge of the falls. They fly into the air and land, Jo with the bird safe in her hand. Suddenly something magical happens, which we see in a glorious feathery illustration, as the bird’s plumage bursts into coloured profusion: ‘Its feathers painted the air: pink and blue and red and green and every colour in between,’ we read. With the problem of returning solved by a gigantic Tower Bird, Alex and Jo are flown back to a euphoric professor and all ends happily with the future of the species assured.
Nora Brech infuses some of her spreads with gentle humour: she gives full rein to her imagination, and has great fun inventing fictitious birds – that of the Big-to-Little Birds, each a different colour, is superb.
In an afterword she explains that although Rainbow Birds are imaginary, environmentalists are working to save rare birds from extinction. With its important ecological message, this arrestingly illustrated story would make a good starting point for discussions on the importance of protecting rare species.