Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Crane & Crane

In areas of high growth and construction, we often joke that the state bird is the construction crane. But in many areas of North America we can also enjoy seeing real, live cranes. (In Rockport, the only naturally migrating colony of whooping cranes spend the winters, but we also get sandhill cranes there.)

In Crane & Crane, Linda Joy Singleton compares the construction crane with the sandhill crane.  She very simply, yet clearly, conveys a number of concepts that compare the object with a living thing. This allows her to show more than just the similarities, also visually demonstrating how nature inspires technology and how mechanical things can mirror the natural word.

Using double page spreads to show both a living crane and a construction crane, Singleton encourages readers to view these similarities as a sandhill crane lifts, stretches, honks, grabs, glides, and more. On the facing page a construction crane is performing the same actions and making the same sounds. By the end of the book readers discover that while the construction crane was building a house, the bird was building a nest. A final page labels parts of both cranes.

In addition to showing young readers how both cranes operate, the book teaches verbs. Only the final word, "home," is a noun. Children will enjoy looking at the details and can be encouraged to repeat and act out some of the words, especially onomatopoeic words like "plop" and "swoosh." Watercolor and crayon illustrations by Richard Smythe are bright and light and the pictures add a lot of details to support the single words on each page.

Sandhill Cranes, Bosque Redondo, NM 
While Crane & Crane focuses solely on the sandhill crane, which are found in marshes and fields and prairies throughout much of the northern and southwestern parts of North America, there are many more species in the world with only the sandhill and whooping cranes native to North America. I do wish Singleton had included information specifically on cranes as children who like birds will want to know more about this amazing species. They are among the largest birds in North America with extremely large wingspans. They are also very vocal birds so check out websites like Cornell Lab of Ornithology that provide sound files.

FTC Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the author but receive no compensation for the review.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Sounds of Nature: World of Birds

This is an interesting book because it is interactive, allowing readers to actually hear the sounds of birds in their natural environment. Organized by habitat--rainforest, mountains, desert, prairie, woods, ice, wetlands, city, ocean, and bush--each double-page spread features 6-7 birds, providing a brief description of its sound along with a "press here" button to hear one birdsong per group. The final double-page repeats the sounds (actually it is where the playback equipment is housed) and offers an overview of what a bird is, as well as information on the different orders of birds. The sound buttons are repeated with information on the habitats.

Two cautions: because of the choking hazard from the small sound producing part, the book is not for young children (3 and under) and because the sound producing part is in the back cover it can sometimes take a bit of pressure to produce the sound. The sounds in the book were created in association with Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Although it is not possible to identify individual birds in most cases, the book does offer a rare opportunity for kids to hear the sounds of emus, penguins, and other far-flung birds, and they will love creating a cacophony of sound by pushing the buttons. The illustrations are colorful and appealing and reasonably realistic enough to help with identification. The book was a 2019 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students: K–12 (National Science Teachers Association and the Children's Book Council).

FTC Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the author but receive no compensation for the review.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Song for Papa Crow

Many birders identify birds by their call and they use mnemonics to help them remember the calls. In Song for Papa Crow, Marit Menzin introduces the calls of about a dozen birds. Starting with the American Crow, readers learn that not all bird calls are melodious songs. The caw, caw of the crow is so irritating that it chases away the other birds. Although his papa loves his voice, the other birds don't like his singing. Wanting to help his son, Papa asks the Mockingbird to teach Crow to sing. Mockingbird can mimic the songs of other birds and is one of the only birds you will hear at night.

Little Crow wants to sing like the other birds, who make fun of his call and run away. But can Mockingbird's magic whistling seeds help? Well, in this story, the answer is yes, but Little Crow quickly learns that singing and trilling the songs of other birds also means he can't hear danger when Hawk comes calling. Worse, he can't call out to his father for help because he no longer sings his own recognizabel song. Okay, this is a kids book so all ends well when Little Crow spits out the whistling seeds and calls for a flock of crows to help him. And Little Crow learns to love his own song, even if he is singing out of tune.

Fun Facts at the end provide a little bit of information about each bird and the written vocalizations of the calls are accurate and will help young birders identify the calls. Collage illustrations are bright and colorful and clearly show important identification markings for the pictured birds.

While the onomatopoeic written sounds are accurate, readers may want to supplement their skills through some of the great on-line collections of bird songs.  Cornell's Lab of Ornithology has a nice collection, along with tips on learning to identify birds by calls and songs. Just click the link: .

FTC Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the author but receive no compensation for the review.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Superlative Birds

Many of us are enthralled by trivia. As kids we pore over the Guiness Book of World Records and as adults we watch quiz games. For birders, Leslie Bulion's book, Superlative Birds, will provide fodder for Jeopardy and send readers to birding books for more information. Here we learn which bird has the loudest voice (spoiler: although several birds have loud voices, the kakapo of New Zealand has a call that can be heard for miles), which bird weighs the least (easy one; the bee hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world), which is the most gruesome hunter (the shrike is known as the "butcher bird" for a reason), and more. Each superlative is accompanied by a poem and a science note that provides details about the bird and its features. Running commentary by a chickadee answers additional questions and provides details to ponder. There is even a QR code embedded on one page that can be scanned to hear the poem about the Arctic Tern being sung.  Robert Meganck's digital illustrations are whimsical, yet realistic and highlight the superlative feature being discussed.

Shrike (used with permission)

Shrikes are vicious hunters,
impaling insects on barbed wire
(Photo by Jeanette Larson)
As Bulion notes in her final poem, every bird is a superlative bird. But with habitats changing, climate patterns shifting, and pesticides and plastics polluting the earth, the superlative birds she highlights are at risk of disappearing. Back matter includes a glossary and notes on the poetry that explain the style of each poem, and concludes with additional resources for birders. End papers have labeled sketches of the birds; the front identifies the superlatives while the back identifies the bird, allowing for a great trivia contest. With the combination of poetry and science, Superlative Birds provides classroom and curriculum uses that reach beyond birding.

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy from the publisher. I receive no compensation for reviewing the book.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Best Bird Books of 2018

January always signals the start of the awards season so once again I am sharing Forbes' list of the top bird books of the past year. I've only reviewed one, The Feather Thief, but will be posting about a second, Warblers and Woodpeckers by my friend Sneed B. Collard III, soon. Although I have reviewed several of his books, my review of that book has been delayed by a move from Rockport back to the Austin area. I'll also note that Forbes does not appear to consider books for young people in their review of birding books. Read some of the past year's blog posts for some great books for young people, although I would not dare try to suggest that my reviews make up a "best" list for the year. And keep reading Bird Brainz for some exciting books coming up in 2019. Click here to see the full list and the annotations about the books but the titles are:

  • The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London by Christopher Skaife
  • The Ascent of Birds: How Modern Science Is Revealing Their Story by John Reilly
  • Belonging on an Island: Birds, Extinction, and Evolution in Hawaii by Daniel Lewis
  • The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of the Planet’s Great Ocean Voyagers by Adam Nicolson
  • The Wonderful Mr Willughby: The First True Ornithologist by Tim Birkhead
  • Mrs Moreau’s Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names by Stephen Moss 
  • The Delightful Horror of Family Birding: Sharing Nature with the Next Generation by Eli J. Knapp
  • Warblers & Woodpeckers: A Father-Son Big Year of Birding by Sneed B. Collard III
  • BirdNote: Chirps, Quirks, and Stories of 100 Birds from the Popular Public Radio Show by BirdNote; edited by Ellen Blackstone
  • Hentopia: Create a Hassle-Free Habitat for Happy Chickens; 21 Innovative Projects by Frank Hyman
  • The Wall of Birds: One Planet, 243 Families, 375 Million Years by Jane Kim 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Counting Birds

Imagine a sport where you spend Christmas day shooting as many birds as you can. Over a hundred years ago many hunters would compete to kill as many birds as they could. Birds of all kinds were considered fair game. Finally, one man proposed that that competition be changed to a bird-census. "Count them, he proposed. But don't kill them."

Heidi E.Y. Stemple tells the story of how Frank Chapman, a bird enthusiast and the publisher of Bird-Lore magazine, convinced people to work for bird conservation rather than destruction. In 1900, the first year of the Christmas Bird Count, 27 bird watchers in 25 locations across the United States counted birds. More people joined the count every year and the tradition spread to other countries. Today, over 73,000 birders in more than 2,500 circles count birds tallying, in 2016, more than 56,000,000 birds!
(Inside spread courtesy of Quarto)

Over several pages, Stemple takes readers along for the count, starting with the early morning owlers and continuing with backyard birds who count the birds they see at feeders. At the end of the day, reports are collected and submitted to the National Audubon Society. Stemple explains the importance of these counts and how citizen scientists contribute valuable data. A note at the end provides more information about Frank Chapman and the 2016 tallies. Those interested can check 2017 and, soon, 2018 totals at Audubon's summary site.

Bird Count Circles
The story of an unheralded man and an increasingly popular but relatively unknown event is well told and inspiring. Illustrations by Clover Robin (great name!) in cut-paper collage are colorful and realistic and add to the reader's enthusiasm for birding. Stemple points out that anyone can participate through local birding clubs and groups and it's free! And although it is called the Christmas Bird Count, in fact, it extends beyond December 25. Audubon's 119th Christmas Bird Count will be conducted between the dates of Friday, December 14, 2018 through Saturday, January 5, 2019.

Fulton Learning Center student
bird team members
(photo courtesy of Martha McLeod)
At the end of the book Stemple notes that many of the counters are young people. In fact, students from Fulton Learning Center (in Rockport where I currently live) participate in several counts throughout the year including the Christmas Bird Count. Clubs register the circle for their counts to avoid overlap and duplication. Definitely a book for anyone interested in birding and bird conservation and essential reading for birding clubs and groups.

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy from the publisher. I receive no compensation for reviewing the book.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Coming Home

A plucky, determined robin travels home for Christmas to meet his mate in this charming picture book. Feeling the pull of a mysterious force, the bird swoops and darts, soaring onward and upward, on a long journey to leave the cruel snows and make it safely home where his mate is waiting. Gorgeous digitally composed illustrations vary in tone and color to reflect the various areas the robin must fly through. Over land and water, escaping danger, sometimes flying in a flock but often alone, helped along the way by a kindly sailor, the little robin is finally with the one he loves. While this is primarily a gentle story to read aloud, it is also a heartwarming holiday tale and readers will learn a bit about birds along the way.

Prefatory facts refer to the bird as a Scandinavian robin, although I don't find that there is a species with that specific name. European robins (Erithacus rubecula) are found from Siberia to Algeria and the Azores and robins from Scandinavia migrate to Great Britain and Western Europe to escape the cold winters. The same fact section explains that robins use the stars to navigate and fly up to a 1,000 feet above sea level. In contrast to American robins, which are heralded as a sign of Spring, in Britain the European robin is most associated with Christmas as they begin looking for a mate in mid-December and have, hopefully, found one by mid-January.

My only quibble with the illustrations is that there is no discernible difference shown between the male robin and his mate. The female's coloring should be muted, almost washed out, in comparison to the deep, rich colors of the male. I think it would also be helpful to have a map showing the bird's migration route.

American robin
(photo by J. Larson)

Although the term robin is used for both European robins, members of the Old World flycatcher family, and the American robin, which is a thrush, this story is clearly about a European robin.  While both birds have reddish-orange breasts, they are not related. The European robin's breast is so distinctive that it is also called robin redbreast.

The author, Michael Morpurgo, is best known for his book, War Horse, which was also made into a major motion picture. Illustrator, Kerry Hyndman, is a London-based illustrator and map-maker. Coming Home is her first children's picture book.