By Guest Blogger Dudley Carlson
and drilling (pileated woodpecker). Full-page illustrations of each bird’s head and beak are accompanied by small drawings of the whole bird doing the activity described, with a sentence or two detailing the specific use of that bill design. Back pages show the relative size of each bird and its place on the map, with a brief list of its primary foods. While the focus is on visually exciting looks at a wide variety of bills and beaks, there is also a satisfying amount of information to help young children notice and think about differences and the reasons for them. Global in scope, this book includes few backyard birds but will help stimulate conversations at the bird feeder about such differences as the siskin’s needle-sharp bill versus those of the thicker-billed finches, or the woodpeckers’ hammers versus the hummingbirds’ probes.
On the upper end of the age spectrum are two books for science-minded teens who are already serious about birds. Marianne Taylor, in How Birds Work; An Illustrated Guide to the Wonders of Form and Function from Bones to Beak (Unipress, 2020), begins with “Ancestors and evolution” before exploring each of the bodily systems (from skeletal, muscular and nervous to feathers, skin and pigmentation). Each topic or sub-topic is presented, with photos or drawings, on a double-page spread, so that the highly detailed information can be sampled in small bites or larger chunks.
An even deeper look at one aspect of bird life comes from British scientist Richard Dawkins, whose Flights of Fancy; Defying Gravity by Design and Evolution, illustrated by Jana Lenzová (Head of Zeus, 2021) is currently available only online but scheduled for book publication in the US in March. Beginning with “Dreams of Flying” and looking from ancient myths to Leonardo’s drawings, Dawkins asks such questions as “What is flight good for?” as he explores the evolution of flight in birds, insects, and a few other animals. He includes the development of human flight, from Leonardo’s imaginings to early balloon flights and on to “The Outward Urge” and reasons for exploring space. The physics of flight – what it takes to get off the ground – and the evolution of means of guiding flight include both avian evolution and the reasons for losing wings (as in ostriches and penguins) and the wide variety of adaptations related to flying. For the future ornithologist, engineer or pilot, this book provides a wealth of stimulating ideas and speculation.
Finding the right book at the right time for a specific child can be a daunting task. Even the best books can be difficult to find, and there is also the challenge of finding the good ones among the many others. Your local library can be a great source of ideas, and SFBBO’s booklist for children includes all of those mentioned over the past eight years in Wingbeat or on this blog. Happy hunting!
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.
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