Behold the most despised bird in human history!
So begins Jan Thornhill’s riveting, beautifully illustrated story of the House Sparrow. She traces the history of this perky little bird, one of the most adaptable creatures on Earth, from its beginnings in the Middle East to its spread with the growth of agriculture into India, North Africa and Europe. Everywhere the House Sparrow went, it competed with humans for grain, becoming such a pest that in some places “sparrow catcher” became an actual job and bounties were paid to those who got rid of it.
But not everyone hated the House Sparrow, and in 1852, fifty pairs were released in New York City. In no time at all, the bird had spread from coast to coast. Then suddenly, at the turn of the century, as cars took over from horses and there was less grain to be found, its numbers began to decline. As our homes, gardens, cities and farmland have changed, providing fewer nesting and feeding opportunities, the House Sparrow’s numbers have begun to decline again — though in England and Holland this decline appears to be slowing. Perhaps this clever little bird is simply adapting once more.
This fascinating book includes the life history of the House Sparrow and descriptions of how the Ancient Egyptians fed it to the animals they later mummified, how it traveled to Great Britain as a stowaway on ships carrying Roman soldiers, and how its cousin, the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, was almost eradicated in China when Mao declared war on it. A wealth of back matter material is also supplied.
Jan Thornhill is an author and illustrator who brings her fascination with the natural world to her books for children. They include The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk (Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Award finalist); I Found a Dead Bird (National Parenting Publications Gold Award, Norma Fleck Award, Children’s Literature Roundtables of Canada Information Book Award); The Wildlife 123 (UNICEF-Ezra Jack Keats International Award, Governor General’s Award finalist) and The Wildlife ABC (Governor General’s Award finalist). Jan has also won the Vicky Metcalf Award. She spends her spare time in the woods obsessively collecting and cataloging wild mushrooms and slime molds. She lives near Havelock, Ontario.
[Thornhill's] engaging and informative avian history bestows worth upon the sparrow's feathery back, recasting it from villain to valuable ally.
. . . Thornhill delivers sound science with breathtaking artwork and beautifully crafted words. . . . readers will gain respect for and understanding of this common, but triumphant, bird.
The visual appeal of the artwork is captivating. This book is highly recommended . . . It provides a fresh way of looking at history.
. . . masterfully conceived and beautifully illustrated . . . . Superbly designed nonfiction with a powerful environmental message.
A complex, dark comedy of human behavior and a tenacious avian species . . . An exceptional selection for nonfiction collections; use it to deepen discussions on the relationship among humans, animals, and the environment.
In her engrossing narrative . . . Thornhill revels in the irony of the sparrows’ “triumph,” even as she comments on complexities that add dimension to the story and point toward their uncertain future.
. . . excellent research and storytelling skills . . .
Reviews for The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk:
“A sobering, beautifully presented extinction story.” Kirkus, starred review
“This vivid, fascinating story emphasizes not only the importance of conservation but also how deeply intertwined the human and animal worlds can be. Eye-opening and tragic, to be sure, but surprisingly hopeful all the same.” Booklist, starred review
“The images have an etched and naturalistic quality that adds beauty and an emotional connection to the story of a long-extinct animal. Prose and science come together to highlight the loss of a species and then connect this extinction with modern conservation efforts.” School Library Journal, starred review
“Thornhill’s approach to this historical event is so advanced it’s simple: she tells the tale … And what a tale it is.” Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review