By Guest Blogger Dudley Carlson
birds of all kinds. So is reading about them together.
Helen Frost’s poetic story, Hello, I’m Here! follows a Sandhill Crane chick from inside the egg as it peeps and struggles to break free, sees its mother for the first time, meets its sibling, and begins to explore the world. Crane chicks, like ducklings, are precocial; they’re born with feathers, can walk and swim soon after birth, and must learn immediately how to find food and avoid dangers (such as snapping turtles). Rick Lieder’s photographs fill the pages from edge to edge, so the listener is right there in the marsh with both adults and chicks. This brief poem covers only the beginning of a chick’s life – literally the first day; but the last page offers more information about their life cycle for the adult reader or the curious older child. This could be read to a very young child, and after one reading the pictures can be explored in detail. It’s a great conversation-starter for the very youngest. (Candlewick Press, 2019.)
Loon, by Susan Vande Griek, takes somewhat older readers (4-8) into the nest of a Common Loon whose first egg is just hatching. Both parents are already out on the water, calling out to their two chicks to jump in and follow. But this book continues through the first summer, until the parents migrate, and into the fall, when the young birds fly out to sea, where they remain for three to four years until they are ready to return to the north to find a mate and a new home. Karen Reczuch’s paintings bring the loon family and their surroundings to life, and here again young readers can visually immerse themselves in the loons’ habitat or learn more from the back pages, which provide information on the loon’s life cycle and other loon species. (Groundwood Books, 2011.)
For a completely different lifestyle, Paul Meisel presents My Tiny Life, by Ruby T. Hummingbird (illustrated by the author). This diary begins on May 15: “Today I poked my way out of this tiny egg,” and proceeds with entries about being fed, flying for the first time, finding food, and experimenting with the aggressive acrobatics that hummingbirds perform. Flying south to winter in Mexico, molting into adult plumage, migrating back across the ocean to his birthplace (yes, Ruby T. is a male), and finding a potential mate complete this story, which is told in short sentences for new readers or younger listeners. Endpapers and a back page provide a glossary, resources, and extended information for older children about hummingbirds in general and this species in particular. Though the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is outside our range, this book provides an easy way to introduce children to the hummingbird group. Put up a feeder and help them learn about western species. (Holiday House, 2021.)
All three stories put the reader in the center of the action, with pictures that amplify the text. If you have bird feeders or live near the water or near a park with trees, shrubs and flowers, these are stories that can help your children “warm up” to looking around, noticing what birds are present and what they’re doing. Then you can visit the library for a field guide or use your phone to find an app to help identify what you’ve seen.
As I was thinking about very young children and the pleasure of reading aloud, I discovered to my surprise that our booklist, which has been growing for eight years, didn’t include the classic picture story about a bird family, which is eighty years old this year. Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings follows a pair of Mallards who make their nest in the Charles River, near Boston’s Public Garden. When Mr. Mallard decides to “take a little trip up the river,” Mrs. Mallard is left to care for the ducklings on her own. A friendly policeman who has fed the parents peanuts sees her as she attempts to cross a busy street to reach the Public Garden, and it is his intervention – holding back oncoming traffic and calling for reinforcements to make sure that the ducklings reach their destination in safety – that saves the day (and the ducklings). Despite its age (obvious from the cars in the illustrations), this is still a favorite among preschoolers and a pleasure to read aloud to a child in your lap or a group at your feet. And if you’re visiting Boston, you can take your children to see the Mallard family. Nancy Schön’s statues of Mrs. Mallard and the ducklings were placed in the Public Garden in 1987 in tribute to McCloskey. (Original: Viking, 1941; 75th anniversary edition Penguin/Random House, 2016.)
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.
Wingbeat is a blog where you can find the most recent stories about our science and outreach work. We'll also share guest posts from volunteers, donors, partners, and others in the avian science and conservation world. To be a guest writer, please fill out our Volunteer Application below.