By Guest Blogger Dudley Carlson
home-school her for the first year, which they agree to do on one condition: she must find one social activity on her own that provides the chance to meet new people and make friends.
At the village library, she meets a friendly librarian who mentions that a “twitching” club meets there, and as she’s found nothing else, she decides to try it, quickly discovering that it consists only of boys and a decidedly unwelcoming male leader. Told that seeing a new bird counts only if it’s a male, Callie rebels; and that marks the beginning not only of her birding adventure, but of her gradual transformation from shy outsider to can-do twitcher. She’s helped along by evolving friendships with Raj, a boy whose small size and ethnicity have marked him as “different” and made him a target for teasing, and Sid, a girl whose family circumstances and an unusual disease make her seem less interested than she really is.
Callie also finds an early diary of the castle’s former owner who, as a young girl, was sent away from home for safety during World War II. Philippa Spence was also a “twitcher,” and in her diaries Callie learns more about birds and discovers another outsider faced with difficult circumstances. As their parallel stories begin to intertwine, we see both young women finding their strengths.
This is not a flawless book. One of Philippa’s bird lists includes North American species that would not have been seen in Scotland, including a Black-capped Chickadee that eats from her hand. But it nicely captures the joy of finding new birds and the challenges of developing new friendships, and there are important parallels with today’s need for inclusiveness in birding and elsewhere.
SFBBO member Dudley Carlson, a biologist’s daughter, grew up in a family of birders and was Manager of Youth Services at Princeton (NJ) Public Library for 25 years. She believes that if children enjoy learning about birds and understand how important they are to our environment, then birds, nature and people will have a better chance at a healthy future. Check out all of Dudley's book recommendations.
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