It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? Bird Books


One of the few memories I have of 2nd grade is learning about birds. My teacher, Mrs. Wheaton, must have been a bird-watcher, because she taught us about the song birds native to our area. I  don’t remember what specific facts about birds I learned from her, but I have clear memories of coloring pictures of the Baltimore oriole, red-wing blackbird, goldfinch, and more. The pages  had the purple ink and intoxicating smell of a mimeograph machine, and I loved them. At the end of the unit, all the pages were stapled together into a little book. 

9780763645618_p0_v1_s260x420I was reminded of this project recently when I read Look Up! Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard. (Candlewick Press, 2013) This book is filled to the brim with fascinating details about bird species, habitats, flight behavior, wing shape, beak shape, songs and more. Author and illustrator Annette LeBlanc Cate tells readers at the start that she is not a scientist; she just really loves birds. Her love shines through on every page of this fact-filled, engaging book.

One of my favorite things about Look Up! Bird Watching in Your Own, which won a Robert F. Sibert Honor, is that it encourages children to hone their powers of observation. Cate urges readers to go outside and “be amazed at just how thrilling it can be to see new birds, find out about them and learn their names.” Tips for successful birdwatching, as well as a bibliography for budding birders are included. Cate also recommends that readers visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website. This is an extensive resource, where you can search for information about almost any North American bird, hear its song and watch several species in the wild via their Bird Cam.

Parrots-over-Puerto-Rico1Parrots Over Puerto Rico (Lee & Low Books, 2013) by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore is a gorgeous book that tells the story of the Puerto Rican parrot. Called iguaca by the Tainos who arrived on the island over a thousand years ago, “hundreds of thousands of parrots flew over the island” before Puerto Rico was settled by humans. Roth and Trumbore’s description of this paradise is brought to life in Roth’s stunning collages. Using paper and fabric, she creates scenes that have such depth and texture you wouldn’t be surprised if the birds flew off the page.

By weaving the history of Puerto Rico together with the fate of these now extremely rare parrots,  Roth and Trumbore make it clear that humans have been the primary culprits in the birds decline. But they also devote almost half of the book to the efforts humans have taken since the late 1960s to save the Puerto Rican parrot. They describe the setbacks as well as the successes scientists have had as they fight to save the Puerto Rican parrot.

Winner of the 2014 Robert F. Siebert Medal for Most Distinguished Informational Book for Children, Parrots Over Puerto Rico has a lengthy afterword that describes the work of the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program in greater detail and includes photographs of the birds in the aviaries and in the wild. There is also a timeline of events described in the book, as well as a list of sources.


For younger bird lovers, Jennifer Ward has created the lovely Mama Build a Little Nest (Beach Lane Books, 2014). This rhyming book describes how many different species of birds build their nests. Some, like the hummingbird, are “wee and snug,” while others, such as the falcon, scrape “a simple nest/upon a craggy ledge.” Steve Jenkins’ beautiful collages are just right for Ward’s simple, straightforward text. Each page also includes an additional fact about the birds and their habits and a short author’s note provides additional information about nest construction and a list of websites to explore.

If you or your students weren’t bird watchers before, you definitely will be after reading these books. Mrs. Wheaton would have loved them!

Don’t forget to visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers to find out what other people have been reading lately. Thanks, Jen and Kellee, for hosting!

10 for 10 Nonfiction Picture Books and a Poem

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Last Sunday, the New York Times Book Review featured Al Gore’s review of  Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Henry Holt, 2014), an examination of “what biologists call the sixth mass extinction.” Gore states that Kolbert “makes it clear that doing what is right means accelerating our transition to a more sustainable world.”

It seems to me that educating our kids about the wonders of the natural world is one way to accomplish this transition. Children are naturally curious and amazed, and we should do everything we can to build on this sense of wonder. One natural way to do that by sharing books, beautiful nonfiction picture books that celebrate “The World Around Us.”

 Sing of the Earth and Sky,

sing of our lovely planet,

sing of the low and high,

of fossils locked in granite.

Sing of the strange, the known,

the secrets that surround us,

sing of the wonders shown,

and wonders still around us.

 Aileen Fisher

Each one of the books shared below open a window onto nature, and will help inspire awe and wonder about our world in children of all ages.

The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest–and Most Surprising–Animals on Earth, by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin, 2013)

Animal Book_hres

This book is chock full of fascinating facts about animals of every kind, a book to savor and pore over. The stunning illustrations of each animal are carefully crafted in Jenkins’ signature collage technique.  Jenkins provides a thorough explanation of his process in the book and in this video:

Island: A Story of the Galápagos, by Jason Chin (grades 2-4, Roaring Brook Press, 2012)


Jason Chin has created a richly detailed account of the creation of the Galápagos and how they came to be populated by so many species found only on these volcanic islands. The book ends with the arrival of Charles Darwin on the HMS Beagle and provides a brief explanation of how Darwin developed his theory of evolution based on his observations of animals during his visit to the islands.

Coral Reefs, by Jason Chin (grades K-4, Roaring Brook Press, 2011)


Coral Reef begins with a girl taking Coral Reef down from a shelf in the Rose Main Reading Room of the New York Public Library. As the main character becomes immersed in her book, coral begins to appear, and soon the library is transformed into a magnificent coral reef.  Chin’s text and illustrations are perfectly matched as the structure of the reef and the relationships of the animals who live in and around it are explained. An Author’s Note briefly explains the threat to coral reefs from global warming and offers suggestions for how readers can help slow this process. Chin also explains how he researched coral reefs and offers some additional resources.

The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery, by Sandra Markle (grades 4-8, Millbrook Press, 2013)

Case-of-the-Vanishing-HoneybeesRecommended by the National Science Teachers Association, Sandra Markle’s meticulously researched book explains in detail the essential role honeybees play in nature. Gorgeous photographs are clearly labeled and include explanatory captions. Markle raises the many questions scientists have about the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder and is realistic in her conclusion that honeybees are not out of danger. Suggestions for how to help honeybees are included, as well as a list of additional resources, a glossary, and index.

The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families, by Susan L. Roth & Cindy Trumbore; collages by Susan L. Roth (grades 1 and up, Lee & Low Books, Inc., 2011)

The-Mangrove-Tree-FORMATCreated by the same team behind Parrots Over Puerto Rico, winner of the 2014 Sibert Medal for the most distinguished information book published in the United States, The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families describes the effort of Dr. Gordon Sato to ease the poverty and lack of food in the African country of Eritrea. The story is told in layers, the simplest of which is a cumulative rhyme a la “The Hose that Jack Built.” Sidebars explain Dr. Sato’s project in more detail, and an Afterword provides even more details as well as photographs of Dr. Sato, the mangrove trees, and the Eritreans who worked to make the project a success. A glossary, websites, and sources are also included.

Stripes of All Types, by Susan Stockdale (Preschool-grade 1, Peachtree, 2013)

Stripes-of-All-TypesThis simple rhyming text introduces young readers to a wide variety of animals whose stripes help them survive in different habitats. Stockdale’s writing is full of vivid language, and is perfect for building vocabulary. Additional information about each animal is provided at the end of the book.

Wings, by Sneed B. Collard III; illustrated by Robin Brickman (grades 2-3, Charlesbridge, 2008) Wings

Collard’s rich, descriptive language and Brickman’s stunning collages present readers with a surprising range of information about wings found all over the world, from “steamy rain forests to the frigid North Pole.” Details illuminate the wide variety of styles of wings, how many wings particular animals have, even the various purposes for wings. A list of both print and digital resources is included, as is a glossary and a brief description of Brickman’s paper collages.

Pointy, Long, or Round: A Book About Animal Shapes,  by Patricia M. Stockland; illustrated by Todd Ouren (Kindergarten-grade 3, Picture Window Books, 2005)


Here’s another book organized around a trait many different animals have in common. Stockland’s text is simple yet descriptive, and provides details about how these animals use their shape for protection or survival. Additional details related to each animal’s shape can be found in side bars, which are cleverly incorporated into the illustrations.

Volcano Rising, by Elizabeth Rusch; illustrated by Susan Swan (grades 1-4) Charlesbridge, 2013)


Volcano Rising explains what volcanoes are, how they work, and that “volcanoes are not just destructive. Much more often, volcanoes are creative.” This overview is told using one font style. Specific examples of each type of volcano, such as the creation of Paricutín, a volcano in Mexico that grew to a height of 1,300 feet in just nine years, are provided in a different font. Back matter includes a glossary, resources the author used, and books for further reading.

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps, by Jeanette Winter (Preschool-grade 3, Schwartz + Wade Books, 2011)

The Watcher

When Jane Goodall first went to Africa, she “wanted to learn things that no one else knew, uncover secrets…” She did just that during her years studying the chimps of Gombe. Winter writes in language that is both simple and accessible, yet evokes Jane’s sense of wonder in all that she sees. She ends her account of Goodall’s inspiring life story with these words: “Jane carried with her the peace of the forest…and opened a window for us to the world of chimpanzees.”

Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10 is a “celebration of nonfiction picture books” organized by Julie Balen, Cathy Mere, and Mandy Robek. Many bloggers shared lists of their favorite nonfiction picture books on Wednesday, and a list of their posts can be found on Julie’s blog. My post is a little late because of internet issues, so I decided to combine it with Poetry Friday. Be sure to visit Karen Edmisten for the Poetry Friday Round Up. Thank you to all these ladies for devoting their time to make cyberspace a rich and inspiring place to visit.