By Guest Blogger Dudley Carlson
like a bird on the way to school. People wave and smile, and the birds sing back.” But one day she notices a woman who neither waves nor smiles, and her joy fades into discomfort. It takes another chance encounter for her to discover that the woman loves birds just as she does. Hyewon Yum’s expressive illustrations in colored pencil and gouache capture both the child’s and the woman’s delight in the birds and their surroundings. Whether or not children have noticed birds before, they will connect with this joyful bike ride and the birds on view. This should work for any child old enough to sit in a lap and look at pictures, and older siblings can read it to them.
For children beginning to read on their own, Elise Gravel introduces a show-off crow named Arlo (according to his small yellow-bird friend Pips) in Arlo and Pips: King of the Birds. This jet-black, comma-shaped crow wears a tiny yellow crown and claims to be the greatest bird in the world, gorgeous and incredibly smart, though his yellow friend is initially dubious. In three short chapters, the two explore the city and the beach, remarking as they go on the wastefulness of the humans who leave them plenty to eat. The layout is that of a graphic novel, but the text is large and easy to read, with a smattering of words like “impressive” and “competition.” The digital illustrations, clever and energetic, carry the story effectively, and Gravel weaves in informative “footnotes” that give factual information about crows. Even parents may learn a thing or two about crows in this amusing tale, and the last page promises a sequel.
For somewhat older siblings, there’s another new crow story from Cynthia Voigt. Little Bird, the title character, is the smallest of a flock of crows, charged with keeping an eye on fledglings and doing other tasks that older crows disdain. When the crows are threatened by a hawk, a cat, and then a fisher, it’s Little Bird who discovers that the fisher has not only torn the nest but stolen Our Luck, a charm found by an ancestral crow and woven into the nest.
Because she was on duty when Our Luck was stolen, Little Bird feels obligated to search for it, even though none of the older crows believe she’s capable. Encouraged by Brutus, a philosophical goat who lives on the farm near the crows, she sets out to find the thieving fisher. Thus begins a long and dangerous journey that leads Little Bird to discover her own strengths and abilities and to find not only the lost charm but her gateway to independence. Lynne Rae Perkins provides just enough black-and-white illustrations to bring the characters to life and encourage readers new to chapter books. Children 8 to 10 can handle this on their own, though it could easily be read aloud to a family with older and younger siblings.
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. You can see all of Dudley's book recommendations here.
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