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Children's Nonfiction Death & Dying

I Found a Dead Bird

The Kids' Guide to the Cycle of Life and Death

by (author) Jan Thornhill

Owlkids Books Inc.
Initial publish date
Sep 2006
Death & Dying, Biology
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2006
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2006
    List Price

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Where to buy it

Out of print

This edition is not currently available in bookstores. Check your local library or search for used copies at Abebooks.

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 9 to 13
  • Grade: 4 to 7


I found a dead bird. It made me sad…but I also had a lot of questions, like why did it have to die? How did it die? What would happen to it now that it was dead? This is Jan Thornhill’s jumping-off point for an intelligent, sensitive, and wide-ranging look at death and the cycle of life for young readers. Emerging from the idea that death can be a frightening and foreboding subject, but by not talking about it we make it more so, Thornhill guides readers through difficult but highly relevant terrain. From lifespans to how things die, to what happens after death, and on to how we mark and cope with death, Thornhill takes a comprehensive look at the subject. Thornhill faces the subject head-on and always tackles issues surrounding death with respect, injecting humor at times. The unique perspective is remarkably life-affirming as the book makes connections to the world around us, fitting death into the natural and on-going cycle of life. In her pragmatic style, Thornhill doesn’t shirk from the reality, but she still gives readers scope to think on the more philosophical and spiritual matters surrounding death, without imposing any judgments. This brilliant treatment of the subject of death presents information and issues that readers can ponder and discuss, fulfilling their natural curiosity and interest in life and death.

About the author

Jan Thornhill is an author, illustrator and designer who brings her fascination with the natural world to her books for children. They include I Found a Dead Bird (National Parenting Publications Gold Award, Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction, Children’s Literature Roundtables of Canada Information Book Award); The Wildlife 123 (UNICEF-Ezra Jack Keats International Award for Excellence in Children’s Book Illustration, Governor General’s Award finalist); and The Wildlife ABC (Governor General’s Award finalist). Jan recently won the Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People. She spends her spare time in the woods obsessively collecting and cataloguing wild mushrooms and slime molds.

Jan Thornhill's profile page


  • Winner, Vicky Metcalf Award for author Jan Thornhill's body of work
  • Short-listed, British Columbia Library Association, Red Cedar Book Award
  • Short-listed, Alberta Children's Choice Awards, Rocky Mountain Book Award
  • Short-listed, Ontario Library Association, Silver Birch Award
  • Short-listed, Canadian Children's Book Centre, TD Children's Literature Award
  • Winner, Children's Literature Roundtables of Canada, Information Book Award
  • Winner, Independent Publishers' Award, Juvenile and YA Non-fiction Category, Bronze
  • Short-listed, Nautilus Book Awards, Juvenile Non-fiction Category
  • Commended, Canadian Children's Book Centre, Our Choice Starred Selection
  • Winner, Canadian Children's Book Centre, Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Non-fiction
  • Winner, National Parenting Publications Awards, Children's Products Competition, Gold
  • Commended, Association of Booksellers for Children, Best Books for Children Selection

Editorial Reviews

Alternating between the eww and awe of a child’s mind and eye, the book scores points for being accessible and user-friendly and colorful while being sensitive and thoughtful.


This straightforward, ‘no holds barred’ approach to the subject will captivate children. Chock-full of color photographs, the well-designed book contains boxes with tidbits of information on a wide variety of topics.

School Library Journal

Jan Thornhill comes to our rescue in this fact-packed, sensitively written book that tackles life’s big questions in an accessible and satisfying way. There’s little that Thornhill doesn’t address in this wide-ranging and fun (yep, fun!) book on life and death.

Today’s Parent

…shows no fear in her approach to this very difficult subject. Her conversational writing style, her matter-of-fact tone and her own personal fascination with the cycle of life and death strips away myths, half-truths and fears children may have about death.

The Telegram (St. John’s)

Fascinating and one-of-a-kind…This book is groundbreaking…Complemented by wonderful photographs, this book covers a difficult subject in a beautiful way.

2007 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award Jury

…it will leave younger readers, freshly bereaved or not, with a greater awareness of the cycle of life.

Kirkus Reviews

Thornhill’s volume, liberally sprinkled with photographs, provides a wealth of accessible and intriguing information about life and death… youngsters will come away with a positive reaction to this visually stimulating and informative volume.

Publishers Weekly

It's impossible to read this book without experiencing an exhilaration of awe at nature's dazzling complexity…It is a scientific awakening, an appeal to the mind, and a celebration of the twin miracles of living and dying.

Quill & Quire

Jan Thornhill’s I Found a Dead Bird: The Kids’ Guide to the Cycle of Life and Death is an exciting, upbeat, informative book for readers of all ages. Dangerously thought-provoking, it will raise many questions and stimulate further research.

Ron Jobe, Education Professor, University of British Columbia

From life spans to how things die, from what happens after death to how people cope with the loss of a loved one, the author guides young readers through difficult territory with grace, sensitivity and touches of humor.

North Bay Nugget

[This book] is essentially an encyclopedia of facts and interesting information relating to the subject of life and death…The book is interesting to leaf through and read, and the pictures will grab the readers’ attention.

Science Books & Films (SB&F)

Using photographs and boxes of text as transporters of information, Thornhill covers the territory: life and lifespans of life, from bacteria to humans; how things die; what happens after death, a topic that begins with what happens at the moment of death; and a section titled When People Die, which includes material about grief …By writing so cogently about life in all its forms, Thornhill has succeeded in making death less frightening.

The Globe and Mail

Through straight forward text and numerous photographs and images, Thornhill explains the natural processes of death…A thought-provoking and accessible text…

BC Parent

A bird's death is the jumping-off point in this intelligent, sensitive, and wide-ranging title about the cycle of life.

Our Choice

This book is ideal for those who want short, fascinating facts… It is quite easy to read one page or many and to begin at the beginning or jump into the middle. Boys especially may find this feature particularly appealing.

Resource Links

With multiple color photographs on each page interspersed with bright, colorful graphics, this guidebook to all things dead is visually stunning and crammed full of useful answers to tough questions.

Don Allen, Teaching for Change

This is an excellent science book which explains death by first defining what it means to be alive…covers an unusual and fascinating topic for young people.

Library Media Connection

Thornhill uses a matter-of-fact tone, a scientific approach and riveting photos to help readers accept the cycle of life and death as both natural and interesting…In stimulating children to think both scientifically and compassionately about the life-death cycle she demystifies a subject that can make adults as well as children uncomfortable.

City Parent

This nonfiction treatment of heavy topics is intelligent, age-appropriate and packed with info about nature.

Kansas City Parent

Exploring fascinating aspects of life through an intelligent and thought-provoking text such as this can be helpful as kids process everyday experiences.

Star Phoenix (Saskatoon)

Thornhill does a beautiful job of connecting a difficult subject to the practicality of making connections to our surrounding environment and she does it with a plethora of fascinating facts…I Found a Dead Bird reflects our curiosity, interest and ever present need to comprehend why people and other living creatures eventually die. It satisfies brilliantly.

Canadian Children's Book News

The life and death of humans is put into perspective as part of the normal cycle of life in an intelligent and sensitive way. The book is colorful, with a dynamic lay-out and bites of information juxtaposed with numerous photographs.

Canadian Teacher

Exceptional, original and engaging…The topics covered in this book are so powerful and so unusually fascinating…If you had to pick one way to explain our struggle with life and death this book would be it.

2007 Norma Fleck Award Award Jury

Packed with full-color photographs, fact boxes, and question-and-answer boxes, this candid and straightforward look at death starts with a look at life, beginning with the simple statement that everything that lives must die. A wide variety of topics are explored on double-page spreads: from life expectancy, how things die, and decomposition to extinction and fossils; from rituals, grief, and memory to the paranormal and cutting edge science. This book will be certain to fly off the shelf as it answers questions that kids may not know they have.

Infotech, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

Librarian Reviews

I Found a Dead Bird: The Kids Guide to the Cycle of Life & Death

Finally a book has been written that accurately, clearly, realistically and sensitively explains the life cycle of all living things. How I wish this book had been available throughout my teaching years when so often a student begged for an explanation of death. To begin the quest for understanding, Jan Thornhill states: “But if we’re going to explore death, first we have to answer some questions about life. What does it mean to be alive? Why are some lives long? Why are some lives short? Do all living things eventually die?”

Sharp, clear, vivid photographs highlight and enhance the clear, concise factual information presented in each of the four chapters: “Life & Life Spans,” “How Things Die,” “After Death,” and “When People Die.” Interesting headers catch the reader’s eye and the colourful photo arrangements juxtaposed with text provide a rich experience for learning what life cycles are all about. Thornhill does a beautiful job connecting a difficult subject to the practicality of making connections to our surrounding environment and she does it with humour, grace and a plethora of fascinating facts. Did you know that a dedicated scavenger like a vulture pees down its legs in order to kill nasty bacteria that clings to them or that an estimated 1 million birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians are killed every day on our highways?

I Found a Dead Bird reflects our curiosity, interest and ever present need to comprehend why people and other living creatures eventually die. It satisfies brilliantly.

Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Fall 2006. Vol.29 No. 4.

H I Found a Dead Bird: The Kids’ Guide to the Cycle of Life and Death

What does it mean to be “alive”? How do living things die? A bird’s death is the jumping-off point in this intelligent, sensitive, and wide-ranging title about the cycle of life.

Source: The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Canadian Children’s Book News. 2007.

Other titles by Jan Thornhill