Sunday, February 16, 2014

Nightingale's Nest

Magical realism is a genre where there are elements of magic in an otherwise "normal" world. I am not generally a reader of magical realism or other types of fantasy fiction but 1) I loved Nikki Loftin's first book, The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy and 2) Nightingale's Nest is loosely about birds. 

Nightingale's Nest combines magic into an more traditional tween problem novel. 12-year-old Little John is helping out with his family's financial crisis by working with his father trimming trees and doing gardening work for the owner of The Emperor's Emporium, a chain of dollar-type stores. His sister died when she fell out of a tree and his mother is totally engulfed by grief, while Little John feels somewhat to blame for encouraging her to follow his lead and jump out of the tree. Family in dire straits, about to be evicted from their home, suffering loss....pretty typical problem novel. 

While working with his dad, Little John hears an enchantingly beautiful voice singing. Here comes the magic...sitting in a tree, Gayle acts and talks as if she were a bird. Is she? It sure seems that way. The two kids quickly become friends and Little John tries to protect Gayle from the horrid foster family where she is living until her parents can find her. Where are her parents? They flew away after telling her that if they were ever separated Gayle should build a nest in the tree near "the Emperor's" property and wait for them to find her. The Emperor hears Gayle's singing and enlists Little John's help in getting her to allow him to record her song by offering him a lot of money. More magic. Her song has healing powers but when she is forced to sing, she loses her voice. So Little John is forced to
 (Photo used under Creative Commons license)
choose between betraying his friend or getting the money to save his family. 

The story is loosely related to Hans Christian Andersen's "The Nightingale" but not enough to really be a modern retelling of that fairy tale. It is its own story, steeped with information about birds. Little John is interested in birds and his bedtime reading is often one of his Audubon books.  Many birds are mentioned, including mockingbirds, finches, crows, and more. While readers won't find a lot of factual information, Loftin's lyrical writing often evokes images of these and other birds singing, tweeting, and flying, providing a sense of the wonder and beauty of our avian friends. And of course, the title bird, the nightingale, is not naturally found in Texas or the US. But heck, this is fiction and that is part of the magic.

For readers ages 8 and up, including adults who enjoy a good story. Readers in the Austin area might also like to attend Nikki's book launch party Saturday, February 22, 2014 at Book People.

(I received an advance reader copy of the book from the author, who is a friend and colleague.)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Festive Occasions

Calliope Hummingbird, Rockport, TX
Festivals are fun and they offer opportunities for birders to add to their life lists with the help of others who know more about birding. The festivals usually include presentations by specialists and amateurs, along with workshops and walks. Often they include exhibits or vendors, allowing us to add to our collection of whatever bird we collect, try out binoculars and scopes, or discover new types of feeders. Some festivals like the HummerBird Celebration in Rockport, which got me started on my birding adventures, include both backyard birding and "in the wild" field trips. Without festivals I would never have known about the Calliope Hummingbird that decided to come to town. Nor would I have been able
Banding a Ruby-throat Hummingbird
to see a bander up close, allowing for this rare shot of a hummingbird hiney.

As I wind down some projects and ease a little more into "retirement," I hope to get to more festivals. To that end, I've started a list of birding festivals in the United States. It's one of the tabs at the top of the blog. I'll be adding to the list as time permits and as I find information, but feel free to share any festivals you know about. Maybe we'll spot some Green Jays or a Burrowing Owl together!