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.
I 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 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!