Prairie Wolves in Print: Following Featherbottom

Reviewed by Eric Wendt (’99)
Following Featherbottom Book CoverBy Philip Haussler (’00),
Illustrated by Brad Sneed

Pages vary | MarbleSpark, 2009 | $34.95

My interest in customizable children’s stories began as a kid at the kitchen table reading those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. They were tales told in the second person for kids of a certain age—kids who could handle the prospect of being swept out to sea if they chose to trust the stranger on the raft.

When I became a parent, I learned about those soft books for babies where you slide your own photographs into designated windows: a picture of mommy here, of grandpa there.

But I’ve never seen a custom children’s book as rich, warm and—well—customizable, as Philip Haussler’s Following Featherbottom.

Felix Featherbottom is a delivery stork for “Letter Getter Inc.,” a company that builds names for special children. Felix’s assignment on this day is to gather letters to build my 2-year-old daughter a perfect name. He and his frog sidekick, Pierre Du Pond, then crisscross the globe, fetching letters.

Following Featherbottom Book Interior Page Ironically, their first stop for my daughter, Sydney Nora, was Sydney, Australia, where they picked up a very nice S. (I didn’t have the heart to tell them they could have bagged her entire first name right there.) Then it was off to the Yukon for a Y, and Dakar for a D. You get the picture.

This premise by itself is enough to be cute. But this book is more than adorable. It’s smart and layered, with consideration given to children’s development over time.

For the youngest readers, it teaches letters and offers silly and colorful pictures. For older children, it builds vocabulary and introduces plenty of geographic and biological diversity. Hidden in each of Featherbottom’s destinations are several objects that start with that location’s letter. Haussler never sticks with the usual suspects. There are nightingales in Naples and origami in Oslo. Yellow jackets, a dachshund and a diplodocus.

Brad Sneed’s watercolor illustrations are gorgeous and playful. Their creativity and detail are all the more impressive knowing that they circle the alphabet several times over. You can create books for Amanda and her brother Aaron and never visit the same A-place twice. (For the two Ys in Sydney, Haussler took us to the Yukon and to Yemen.)

Following Featherbottom Book Interior Page Other details make Following Featherbottom all the more powerful. A footer at the bottom of every page on the journey depicts a flying Felix with a banner stretching behind him. The letters on that banner track progress through the name they’re building. And after Felix and Pierre deliver the finished product, they point the child to a world map with all the locations marked.

This book is sweet, smart fun.

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Build your own custom copy of Following Featherbottom at marblespark.com. And learn how Haussler’s publishing company, MarbleSpark, is making sure more kids grow up with books.