Notes from a Children's Librarian: Bird Books

Book Cover That Chickadee Feeling

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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Once when I was young, on a family hike through the ravine, I spotted a man in the bushes with his arms out, a flurry of grey and white, black-capped birds fluttering round him. He put his finger to his lips as we approached. We stopped dead in our tracks, watching the chickadees swoop from nearby branches to peck at seed in the crown of his hat and upturned palms.

I remembered this magical moment when I read That Chickadee Feeling, by Frank Glew, illustrated by the Marna Twins. It begins with a kid who’s really, really bored, so their mom invites them on an outing with some seed and advice to be patient. When a bird lands on the child’s hand, the kid experiences “that chickadee feeling.” It’s the same feeling that comes from riding a bike for the first time, or winning a race (or encountering the Chickadee man in the forest). This tale challenges the reader to find a way out of boredom, with birding as a definite option.

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Over the Rooftops, Under the Moon, by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Nahid Kazemi, follows a bird as he flies through the world, sometimes with others, sometimes alone, through fall, then winter, across various landscapes, both strange and familiar. This book too is about finding inspiration: “…suddenly you feel something that gets you moving and wondering…”

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Book Cover Robert Bateman

If any book can inspire birdwatching, it is Robert Bateman: The Boy Who Painted Nature, by Margriet Ruurs, with art by Robert Bateman. The end-papers of this picture book biography show sketches of birds, including a dark shadow where “a seagull barfed on his sketchbook.” The book includes some astoundingly detailed sketches drawn by Bateman at age 12. This is the story of someone who pays attention, punctuated with paintings and photos of the artist in various locations, i.e. sitting with penguins in the Antarctica. Amidst the foliage and animals, birds remain a constant; the story ends with Bateman teaching his grandchildren to draw (you guessed it) birds. There’s more of a detailed biography at the back.

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Backyard Birds, by Robert Bateman, illustrated by Ian Coutts, could act as a simple field guide for kids. Following an intro by the author, the book is laid out in related pairs i.e. mallard ducks with Canada geese. Alongside detailed illustrations of birds, the text describes identifying characteristics and interesting facts and habits. For example, the mourning dove’s wings whistle as it flies; crows drop nuts under wheels of moving cars and wait for them to be shelled. There’s also general information about bird senses, life cycles, migration and how to attract birds in your backyard.

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Another picture book by Margriet Ruurs, In My Backyard, includes minimal text and Ron Broda’s beautiful paper sculptures illustrating a host of backyard creatures. Three of these are birds—the wren, hummingbird and swallow. At the end Ruurs gives a paragraph of interesting facts about each creature, including a rumour that the hummingbird’s opposite rotating wings inspired the invention of the helicopter. In her epilogue, Ruurs also invites readers to hunt for other animals in the book.                                                         

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Have You Seen Birds?, by Joanne Oppenheim, illustrated by Barbara Reid, is a fun bird-watching companion. It awakens all the senses, hitting on the various types of birds, i.e. summer garden birds, marsh birds, field birds, sea birds. There’s also a listening challenge: “Have you heard town birds? Rapping-on-the-bark birds. Cooing-in-the-park birds?”

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Skydiver: Saving the Fastest Bird in the World, by Celia Godkin, is a nonfiction picture book. This tale follows a peregrine falcon as she meets her mate, makes a nest on a rocky ledge, and ends up crushing her clutch of eggs—because the spraying of DDT makes the shells thin. DDT also endangers insect-eating birds, and those birds that eat insect-eating birds, such as the peregrine. After the DDT ban, bird lovers work to revive the population by keeping some in sanctuaries, feeding hatchlings away from human contact, and releasing them in the wild. The book ends with two peregrines making their home on skyscraper ledges.

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Ruby’s Birds, by Mya Thompson, illustrated by Claudia Davila, has a full-circle ending. Ruby loves to sing, so when her downstairs neighbour, Eva, takes her to Central Park to bird-watch, she finds it hard at first to be silent. Eva points out a Golden-winged warbler, pausing on its journey home to Costa Rica, and teaches Ruby to pay attention. Birds soon find their way into Ruby’s life, and illustrator Davila captures a lovely nighttime scene of her dreaming of feathered creatures. Ruby then takes her family on a warbler-hunt in the park, teaching them to be still as statues.

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My Beautiful Birds, by Suzanne Del Rizzo, is about birds as symbols of hope. Sami and his family trek from Syria to a refugee camp. He misses his rooftop pigeons from home, afraid they haven’t escaped as he has. Sami tries to paint his birds but they appear dark and forboding like the war—but then colourful plumes of new birds he discovers bring hope. Sami feeds them, helps them build a nest, and in return, they help him transition to his new life. Del Rizzo’s modelling clay images are painterly and might inspire young artists to create bird pictures of their own.

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On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press.

July 27, 2020
Books mentioned in this post
Robert Bateman: The Boy Who Painted Nature

Robert Bateman: The Boy Who Painted Nature

edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook Audiobook
tagged : art
More Info
Backyard Birds

Backyard Birds

An Introduction
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
tagged :
More Info
Have You Seen Birds?

Have You Seen Birds?

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
tagged : birds
More Info
Skydiver

Skydiver

Saving the Fastest Bird in the World
illustrated by Celia Godkin
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback Paperback
More Info
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