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list price: $18.95
also available: eBook
published: April 2018

The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow

by Jan Thornhill

0 of 5
0 ratings
list price: $18.95
also available: eBook
published: April 2018

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.

About the Author

Jan Thornhill

JAN THORNHILL’s science, nature, and animal-based books have received multiple honors, most recently the Vicky Metcalf award for her body of work. Jan lives in Peterborough County, Ontario, where she spends her spare time looking for weird fungi in the woods with her dog, Ruby.
Author profile page >
Contributor Notes

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.

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
9 to 12
4 to 7
Reading age:
9 to 12
Editorial Reviews

. . . excellent research and storytelling skills . . .

— CM Magazine

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.

— School Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

The visual appeal of the artwork is captivating. This book is highly recommended . . . It provides a fresh way of looking at history.

— Resource Links

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.

— Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

. . . Thornhill delivers sound science with breathtaking artwork and beautifully crafted words. . . . readers will gain respect for and understanding of this common, but triumphant, bird.

— Quill & Quire, STARRED REVIEW

[Thornhill's] engaging and informative avian history bestows worth upon the sparrow's feathery back, recasting it from villain to valuable ally.


. . . masterfully conceived and beautifully illustrated . . . . Superbly designed nonfiction with a powerful environmental message.


Praise for The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow:
School Library Journal’s Best Books of 2018
New York Public Library Best Books for Kids
“The content encourages us to reflect upon and evaluate the relationship between human beings and animals. This book leaves us with admiration for this feisty bird and hope for our world.” — Friends Journal

Reviews for The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk:
School Library Journal's Best Nonfiction of 2018 List
New York Public Library Best Books for Kids
“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

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