Monday, 15 June 2020

Raymond Sheppard and The Island of Birds by Olivia FitzRoy

The Island of Birds - Cover
I've written about Olivia FitzRoy before so shall avoid repeating myself. During this lockdown in Britain, many people apparently are having trouble sleeping, and I took advantage of joining that number, the other night, by reading The Island of Birds by Olivia Fitzroy (London: Jonathan Cape, 1954).

The dustjacket tells us:
Jamie and Jean Stewart are convalescing after measles at Carrick on the west coast of Scotland. Their housekeeper, Maggie, is looking after them, but they are depressed because their family and friends are away and they can find nothing interesting to do. But one day a friend. Fergus, does arrive, and persuades Maggie to let him take them to his island in his fishing boat, the Wandering Star. They are delighted to learn that they are to act as crew for the voyage, and that Fergus's Island of Birds is forty miles beyond the Outer Hebrides. They enjoy exploring the island with its deserted village, keeping house in the cottage Fergus has rebuilt for himself, fishing and watching birds, including a pair of rare sea-eagles which have nested on the cliffs. An unexpected interruption of their happiness is the arrival of two shady characters who pretend to Jean, whom they find alone in the cottage, that they are friends of Fergus's. Inadvertently she gives away the secret of the sea-eagles' nest. From then on Fergus and the children are defenders in a battle to protect the valuable eggs from the two would-be thieves. The Island of Birds proves to be an even more exciting place than Jean and James had bargained for.
Here is a desert island with a difference and a 'treasure' with a difference. What better setting could there be for a story about the protection of rare birds than the Western Isles, beyond which lies the well-known sanctuary of St. Kilda?’.

I enjoyed the book - maybe because I should have been asleep and felt sort of childish again, reading 'under the covers' so to speak! But the story was fun - exploring the island and the life away from the mainland with the two children and their temporary guardian. The mystery around Fergus is never divulged but he is never 'familiar' and we wonder what will happen on the island.

Olivia Fitzroy's The Island of Birds takes us excitingly to a western isle beyond the Outer Hebrides. For the growing army of young bird-watchers it has special interest, but it will also hold the attention of those for whom birds are little more than a noise in the morning. Raymond Sheppard's beautiful illustrations are some of the best I have seen in a children's book for a long time ~ The Catholic Herald, 3 December 1954, p.8
By the way, there was a BBC children's programme in the late 50s and early 60s with the same title but that was based on a French programme where Jacky and Hermine explore old wrecks and other things scattered along the shore

Anyway, rather than tell you the story - I'll warn you the images below might contain spoilers, so look away now, if you don't want the story spoiled for you!

List of illustrations
I found this list interesting as there a lot more illustrations than those listed. Do you remember when colour illustrations were 'tipped in", i.e. separately published and bound / glued into the main book? Well, I guess this is a hang over from those days as the illos they refer to here are all full page illos.

The other interesting thing is I own a proof copy - this is where a publisher issues a printed rough (normally paperback) to get newspapers to review them and use that 'blurb' on covers and advance materials and also to check what's set up is accurate in terms of spellings and labels on images. Here is where I noticed not only does the proof copy have lighter printing of the images but also skips some of them! And the proof copy has a contents page which is omitted from the hardback I have!

p.13 Jean and Jamie looking bored

p.20 not in the proof

p.21 Maggie hangs out washing

p.29 Fergus arrives  - not in the proof

p.30 Fergus' boat, the "Wandering Star"

p. 43 Jean, Jamie and Fergus eat

p. 45 Basking shark

p. 55 not in the proof

p. 56 Fergus' house

p. 65 not in the proof

p.66 Lobster pots

p.76 Jamie was the first to get a bite

p. 85 Puffins swimming

p. 95 To see the great sea eagle soar out from it

p. 97 not in the proof

p. 98 Fergus plays the accordion

p. 109 Fergus was standing in the boat, laughing

p. 127 not in the proof

p. 128Jim and Willy ("Wye")

p. 134 "What's that?" asked Jim

p. 146 not in the proof

p. 147 Sea Eagle

p. 155 A school of bottled-nose whales

Interestingly the picture of the bottle-nosed whales, is listed in the illustrations as if a full page. But perhaps it's one of those with a caption - despite appearing in the middle of text on page 155.
p. 161 not in the proof

p. 173 not in the proof

p. 174 Jamie waving his hankerchief

p. 186 Suddenly as they talked there was a rush of wings

p. 189 The three of them peer over the cliff edge

p. 198 - similar to p.155 in that it is captioned and listed

p. 203 Jean sits up in bed startled

p. 209 similar to p.155 and 198 in that it is captioned and listed

p. 212 Jamie stuck in the hold

p. 224 He crept up the ladder and for a moment looked back on the scene

p. 226 Jamie swims away from the boat

p. 234 not in the proof

p. 244 Heights had no terror for Wye

p. 253 not in the proof

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