Flying the Nest in Picture Books

Lynn and Cindy: Where we live in West Michigan, summer is a busy time for birds. Birdhouses and nests are hopping places with busy parents zooming back and forth to hungry chicks, some on their second or third broods. Watching birds nest and raise their chicks can be a wondrous thing for a child and the subject has been explored in many picture books over the years. But there is always room for more! This season has brought us two we have especially enjoyed. They are very different in tone and style but both books are a joy to share with young readers.

Lynn: I’m leading off with Henry Cole’s beautiful and eye-catching new book, Nesting (Harper/Katherine Tegen, 2020). Cole uses thin black lines and crosshatching to create wondrous detail.  In the opening pages a tree and a male Robin fill the page. It is spring. Into the picture comes a female robin and a light blue tint eases onto the page. The busy robins build a nest and in a breathtaking illustration, a beautiful blue egg lies in the center of the nest. Cole is a master of perspective and design as well as draftsmanship. Subsequent pages show groupings of wonderfully detailed small illustrations that alternate with 2 page spreads showing the tree and countryside or nest in a storm or under attack from a snake. Each page begs for long and careful viewing. It is hard to chose a favorite but the 2 page spread with the small sketches of the azure eggs and the nesting female may be my choice.

The accompanying text use simple sentences for a very young audience. While this tells a story, the science is clearly presented and wonderfully accessible. An Author’s Note provides additional facts about robins. Masterful and enchanting.

Cindy: As nesting ends here and migration season is getting underway, many parents may be dealing with nervous children just beginning their school career or those going back face-to-face in our pandemic. Mark Teague’s Fly! (S&S/Beach Lane, 2019) is a humorous look at taking a risk to leave the nest. Mama Robin is ready for her baby to fly, but he is content to stay in the nest and have the worms delivered to him. When his begging stops working and he falls out of the tree his imagination starts working overtime as to how he might get back up into the nest. Teague’s acrylic illustrations will make everyone giggle as the baby works through his emotions and options. Parasailing, anyone? 🙂 Pogo stick migration? 🙂

Sometimes we all need some encouragement to get out of our comfort zone. Fly! offers it in a non-threatening way—unless you count the owl!

 

 

 

Books to Nest-le in with: Three Youth Nonfiction Bird Books

Cindy and Lynn: Spring! The birds in our yards are busy building nests and the Canada Geese are already swimming by Cindy’s house with their goslings in tow. Here are some books to read while you watch the nesting activity in your neighborhood.

Lynn: At first glance, Randi Sonenshine’s debut picture book, The Nest that Wren Built (Candlewick, 2020) might be easy to underestimate. Don’t! This lovely book in its brown and cream tones is truly outstanding and, like its small subject, full of surprises and energy.

Sonenshine’s poetic text is in the style of The House That Jack Built and it is a real pleasure to read aloud with a familiar cadence, wonderful word choices, and rhymes that flow naturally with nothing forced. The story is of two Carolina Wrens who build a nest and raise a family and I was so impressed with the amount of information that was incorporated into the story. Wrens are a real favorite of mine and I learned so much. Who knew they decorate their nests with snake skins to scare away flying squirrels intent on robbing the nest? I have observed female wrens dismantling the nests the male built to attract her but I had NO idea that the male builds sometimes as many as 20 “dummy” nests and that after the female makes her choice, the pair re-build the nest together.

Anne Hunter chose a warm soft palette of colors for her ink and pencil illustrations and they are exquisite. Lovely to look at, the drawings are also full of details that reinforce the text. Hunter captures wrens so well with their sassy, bossy fearlessness and the illustrations of the babies just getting ready to fly are adorable.

Excellent back matter includes an illustrated glossary and a page of additional facts about wrens. A perfect choice for a STEM classroom and one that would make a great writing prompt as well.

Cindy: Speaking of STEM classrooms, an early bird nest book from Candlewick that I recently found would pair nicely with Sonenshine’s book. Bird Builds a Nest (2018, 2020pb) written by Martin Jenkins and illustrated by Richard Jones is a part of Candlewick’s “A First Science Storybook” series. In addition to describing the nest-building process, this one includes information about forces: pushing, pulling, and gravity. The bird pulls a worm from the ground, tries to lift twigs that are too heavy, pushes a twig into one side of the nest, pulls it out a little and pushes it in a different way, and drops twigs to the ground during the building process. Jones’ mixed-media illustrations in bright but natural colors suit the book nicely. Questions to ask children about the forces and an index are included at the back.

For the youngest children, try Curious About Birds (Peachtree, 2019) by Cathryn and John Sill. This board book points out the physical features, behavior, and habitats of birds using a variety of species. Each is featured on a single page that includes a bright watercolor illustration, the fact about the bird, and a bonus, the species name of the bird. That’s often left off in books for the very young. For instance, one spread shows the Rainbow Lorikeet with the caption, “Some birds eat plants,” on one page and an Osprey holding a fish in its claws with the caption, “Some birds eat animals.” The book launches with the familiar Northern Cardinal and American Robin but includes Swallow-tailed Kites, Acorn Woodpeckers, Wood Ducks, Ovenbirds, Snowy Egrets, and other birds less frequently found in books for children. Happy birding!

Heroes We Need: Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker

Cindy: Children who embrace time alone, time to think, and time for their own pursuits are going to quietly embrace Sara Pennypacker’s new middle-grade novel, Here in the Real World (Harper/Balzer + Bray, 2020). Ware’s summer plans with his grandmother get sidetracked when she falls and breaks a hip landing her in rehab. His parents immediately sign him up for another summer of “Meaningful Social Interaction” with a side of humiliation that is the local Rec camp. He offers to pay them twice as much as the camp fees to let him stay home alone, he’s eleven, after all. They refuse. He skips out of Rec on the first day during a morning run and takes refuge at a crumbling church nearby. There he meets Jolene, who is using the church’s lot to grow a garden in coffee cans. Battle lines are initially drawn as the two stake their claims and go about their projects. Ware, fascinated by the Middle Ages, is turning the church into a medieval castle. Soon their refuge is threatened by a bird welfare organization and the potential sale of the church. Jolene and Ware must join forces and fight for the land that is so important to them.

Both kids have personal issues. Ware is different and he has overheard his mother wish that they just had a normal kid. Jolene’s situation slowly comes to light, although experienced readers will understand her issues of abandonment and abuse sooner rather than later. Both kids inspire the reader to champion their cause and to enjoy watching the transformations that ensue. Being quiet and being different is okay.

Lynn: One of the things I admire most about Sara Pennypacker’s writing is the way she gets how kids think and then puts readers right there in that experience too. That aspect is a highlight of Here in the Real World. Introverted Ware with his rich inner life, is vividly and authentically portrayed here. We feel Ware’s acute anxiety over the prospect of daily immersion in the summer rec program and we also feel his misery at how he thinks he disappoints his mother by being who he is. Watching Ware grow throughout the story and become confident in himself is the real joy of the book. I was a kid like Ware. I remember still my deep unhappiness at the prospect of the noisy horror of things like birthday parties and I still shudder at the thought of games like Musical Chairs!

One of the great gifts of reading is the ability to see through someone else’s eyes and this thoughtful book provides children unlike Ware to experience his feelings and those like him to be reassured. And seriously – what kid could resist the idea of that medieval castle complete with moat? Don’t miss this quiet and wonderfully crafted book.

Owling: Whoooo Needs This Book? You Do!

Cindy: “You might not realize it, but you need to see an owl.” That’s the opening line of Owling (Storey, 2019) and you not only need to see an owl, but you need to see this book. Starting with a glow-in-the-dark cover, this large square book holds a wealth of fascinating details and gorgeous photographs of the 19 owls species that breed and nest in the United States and Canada. Can owls really turn their heads 360 degrees? How do an owl’s uneven ears help him pinpoint prey? These and other questions are answered in engaging text. Most welcome is the author Mark Wilson’s challenge to common owl “facts” not documented by research studies and his admission when his long study of owls leaves him without sure answers. Research never ends and we rarely have all the answers. 2-4 page spreads feature a specific owl species with a selection of photos, range maps, feather detail, size, behavior, voice, nesting behavior, menu, or other interesting features. The section on Poop and Pellets is sure to be a hit with the target audience, particularly if they’ve ever dissected an owl pellet to learn about an owl’s diet. The section on how to spot an owl has helpful tips that may produce success for young (and old) birders. Lynn heard about this book and then I received a review copy and have been reluctant to hand it over, but we can’t wait any longer to hoot about its publication. Owling is a perfect identification guide for a young birder, but it is so much more, and it has a place in elementary and middle school libraries and elementary science classrooms. Whooooo needs this book? You do!

Lynn: I really appreciate how this outstanding book is organized, the wonderfully researched information presented, and how much is packed into the book. But I need to mention the sheer audience appeal of the production. Talk about a kid magnet! Put this gorgeous book on display and watch it instantly fly off the shelf. Mark Wilson’s photographs almost steal the show. Every single page has a gallery of jaw-dropping pictures that beg to be studied. The images range from small collections illustrating a particular point to full-page photographs that are works of art. The painted illustrations by Jada Fitch are amazing, too.

I learned so much! The small sections showing what each of the various owls eats, “On the Menu,” was interesting and surprising. As a life-long birder, I really valued the identification information, especially tips on what each variety might be mistaken for and how to avoid that. Also as a birder, I loved the section of how to FIND owls in nature with its additional caution of how to also respect and treat them if you do find them or their roosts. Finally, also in the concluding sections, there is information on some of the current and on-going research projects on owls. The back matter includes a glossary and an extensive list of where to find Owls in Captivity by state so that readers can follow Wilson’s advice and become familiar with the appearance of the various owls.

Finally, I am on a mission to find my slides that were taken in the back yard of our first Holland house that sat in an old deeply forested woods. We had nesting Great Horned Owls there and summer after summer, a pair of adults parked their fledged but still dependent owlets on our deck during the day, I’m guessing while they went to hunt. The owlets were almost as big as the adults and absolutely delightful to watch. The squirrels seemed to know how clumsy the owl babies were and teased them by running just out of their reach on the railing underneath them.

Here is my picture of an Eastern Screech Owl but since I am no Mark Wilson, I urge you to find this book and see some REALLY terrific pictures!

Warblers and Woodpeckers – Adult Book Break

Lynn: We love youth books and that is mostly what we read. But now and then it is fun to take a break and dip our toes in adult books. We’ve decided to add a new feature at Bookends – adult books that have a connection to kids, libraries, or the youth book world, and that we think our readers might be interested in. We’re calling it…..Adult Book Break. 

My first recommendation is an adult book by a renown youth author, Sneed B. Collard III, Warblers & Woodpeckers: A Father-Son Big Year of Birding (Mountaineers Books, 2018). In 2016, Collard’s almost 13-year old son, Braden, suggested they do a “Big Year” together. Collard thought about it hard, citing some of the difficulties of such an effort from the physical to the financial. But Braden’s enthusiasm won the day. As Collard notes, “I wondered how much longer he would want to hang around with his dad.” And so it began.

I’ve been a birder all my life, inheriting the interest from my parents, but I am the rankest of amateurs! I have found some birding accounts a bit off-putting and, frankly, snobbish. Sneed Collard’s warm and lively book was accessible, informative, and anything but elitist. Told in a chatty confiding style, the stories of this father-son adventure are down-to-earth, relating triumphs and disasters from killer bee attacks to being stuck in the snow. The pair managed several special trips to important birding areas where they added a plethora of species to their growing lists. The stories of discovering new birds were really inspiring to me and I loved reading about the birding hot spots they experienced. Collard ends the chapters with a list of the birds seen that month and the back matter includes the complete Big Year list for each. There are also wonderful color photographs of birds that both Collards took during the year.

This Big Year experience was a joy to read and I came away feeling both as if I had been along on the trip and also yearning to pack my binoculars and head out immediately for my own Big Year. But the real heart of this book is the story of a father and his young son sharing something truly special. You don’t have to be an expert birder to love that.

Cindy: This was going to be a solo post by Lynn, but she talked about her “year list” all spring and when I headed to Arizona for Spring Break I decided to start my own Life List. By the time I returned to Michigan for the start of spring migration and the warblers started to dazzle me, I was hooked. It was fun to read about Sneed and Braden’s adventures as I had fresh memories of a couple of their Arizona hot spots. A Saguaro National Park ranger suggested I drive south an hour to Madera Canyon, and it was worth it!

I enjoyed their stories and their bonding over birds, and the peek into the birding research world through some of Collard’s contacts for his books. I appreciated Braden’s tenacity and enjoyment in building his list. Both father and son were hungry for the numbers, but their love of their special year together and their love and respect for the birds came shining through the text as well.

Queued up for this weekend is my first viewing of Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson’s 2011 film, The Big Year. It’s what got Braden into wanting to do his “Big Year,” so I figured I should add it to my list. Braden and Sneed (and the rest of the fam), you have an open invitation to come to West Michigan to bird with Lynn and me. There’s 380+ species in our county alone (Ottawa, MI). We have lots of gorgeous hot spots to show you!

For the children birders on your list, don’t miss our recent post, New Picture Books About Birds Take Flight. Sneed’s new book Birds of Every Color is included in the roundup.

 

New Picture Books about Birds Take Flight

Cindy and Lynn: We love the fun coincidences that enliven our days as reviewers! Ever since Lynn infected Cindy with her birding obsession this spring, everywhere we turn we find gorgeous new picture books about birds! Here is a round-up of this flock of wonderful books taking flight. All of them will make lovely additions sitting next to your Stokes and Sibley guidebooks to help encourage the next generation of birders.

Birds of Every Color, by Sneed B. Collard III (Bucking Horse, 2019)

An excellent explanation of the science behind bird coloration and the current theories on the whys behind all that beauty. Full page stunning color photographs on every page make this a real stand-out. Perfect for young readers, the writing is clear and simple yet includes scientific terms in an approachable way. Renown science author Collard and his teenage son took the breath-taking photographs and the outstanding book design and enticing cover make this simply irresistible.

Counting Birds: The Idea That Helped Save Our Feathered Friends, by Heidi E.Y. Stemple (Seagrass, 2019)

Stemple introduces the little known ornithologist Frank Chapman and his development of the Christmas Day Bird Count. She also talks about that count, how it works, why it is so important and how kids can be involved.

Conversational in tone but with a wonderfully conveyed enthusiasm for birds and bird conservation, this book is perfect to use with kids in a classroom or storytime to introduce birding and spark interest in understanding and supporting conservation. Practical ideas and examples of how kids can be involved in the count are especially important as Stemple assures kids they can participate at their own bird feeders for a specific (and short) amount of time that is very practical. Cover Robin’s collage illustrations are as gorgeous as they are inviting. Back matter includes additional information about Chapman, how kids can be involved in Count Day and in helping to save birds.


Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me
, by Susan B. Roth (Holiday House/Neil Porter, 2019)

Roth focusses on a single species, the Bowerbird from Australia and New Guinea. She and the bird have a lot in common as they are both collage artists. The Bowerbird builds structures from a variety of materials and decorates it with bits of color and other found items to attract a mate. Roth uses a variety of colorful materials to build her attractive art to tell a story. The double-page spreads showing their similar work habits, materials, and resulting efforts are genius and make for an interesting way for children to understand both human and bird artists.

Hummingbird, by Nicola Davies (Candlewick, 2019)

Davies also takes on a single species while explaining bird migration. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are visiting my nectar feeders and flowers while they get ready for their long flight back to Mexico, Central America and the southern part of Florida to spend their winters. Even adults are amazed by the endurance of these tiny birds so children are sure to be enchanted with this book. It’s the story of a young girl who learns about the migration from her Granny and from her own observations after flying on an airplane to New York City where she sees her favorite bird during the summer. Hummingbird migration and breeding facts are included to supplement the story, beautifully illustrated by Jane Ray.

Hello, I’m Here!: A Sandhill Crane Family

Cindy: Author Helen Frost and photographer Rick Lieder have teamed up again to create another gorgeous and informative nature book, this time about a Sandhill Crane family. Hello, I’m Here! (2019) is told in Frost’s rhyming verse from the view of the chick, starting with his imminent hatching:

It’s getting crowded
inside this egg.
I can’t flap a wing
or stretch out a leg.

The young chick has much to learn before it becomes a colt but mama and papa and a sibling are there to help in the journey. Habitat, food, and dangers like the threat of snapping turtles are presented in the verse and Lieder’s intimate photography.  The journey of the crane chick mirrors the growth and learning of a young child with all of its new adventures and challenges making this a great choice to read aloud in large groups, or within the comforting nest of a caregiver’s lap. Sandhill Cranes are frequent fliers over the bayou behind my house. Listening to their prehistoric sounding call as the mist rises from the water in the early hours is a favorite treat, while a friend down the way usually has a nesting pair in her yard each spring. Frost and Lieder provide an even closer look for those of us who aren’t so lucky to see them in the wild.

Lynn: Frost’s first-person text uses simple vocabulary that is immediate and engaging and yet manages to pack in all sorts of interesting information about cranes including what they eat and what poses a danger to the chicks. A full page of additional information is provided in the back matter as well.

Rick Lieder’s remarkable photographs give young children an on-the-nest look at this enchanting family. Close-up views of the chicks fill the pages, making this one a joy to use with a group or as a lap book. Few children, or adults for that matter, have ever seen a nesting crane family and Lieder’s skill and patience provide this gift to everyone. Be prepared for demands for multiple readings!

On a personal note, Cindy and I belong to the Michigan Bird Watching group on Facebook where other gifted photographers have been posting pictures of a Sandhill Crane family at the Kensington Metro Park that includes an adopted Canada Goose gosling that is being lovingly raised along with their own chick. Here is what some are calling the “Abbey Road” photo of the family, by photographer, Jocelyn Anderson. She has more looks at this incredible family on her website. Thank you, Jocelyn, for allowing us to share your photo with our readers. Heart melting!

Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Anderson Photography, all rights reserved.