By Guest Blogger Dudley Carlson
Handing her a pair of binoculars, he asks what kinds of bugs she sees (ants), what animal is up in a tree (squirrel), and then in the meadow, the sky and the trees beyond them. “Birds?” she answers, and he says, “It all begins with Crow Not Crow.”
First, they locate a crow on a branch, and dad shows her how to find it in her binoculars and watch it quietly. Then he asks her to describe it, which she does – wings, legs, beak – all black. It flies, cawing, and “’Crow.’ I named it. Owned it.”
Their next bird is black, but with a red-and-yellow shoulder band. It’s black like the crow, but different, she says. “Not crow,” is her father’s response. As they work their way through a series of birds – black with white “stars” on their feathers, black with a brown head, black but smaller than Crow, with a different eye – all of them are Not Crow. As their walk progresses, she becomes more confident in her guesses until once more she spots a large, black-all-over bird that says “Caw!” And she names him – “Crow.” By the time they reach home, this youngster realizes that she can learn to be as good a birder as her brothers, “maybe better.” And she’s on her way.
After the story, there are two pages with brief information about the birds in the book, as well as QR codes that can be scanned with Cornell’s “Bird QR” app or Merlin to produce the birds’ sounds.
Like many other books in Cornell’s series for young readers, Crow Not Crow is in picture-book format, and roughly the same shape and size as the “Let’s Read And Find Out” series of science books from Harper. Poet Jane Yolen and artist Bob Marstall have created three of these, and one of the newest is Mya Thompson’s Ruby’s Birds (illustrated by Claudia Dávila, Cornell, 2019). Here, a lively young girl who loves to sing creates so much song in her New York City apartment that Eva, a downstairs neighbor, leans out the window and offers, “Ruby! Wanna go to the park?” Delighted, Ruby agrees, but she’s puzzled as they pass her favorite spots and even, when they reach Central Park, enter an area where she’s never been.
Eva is obviously looking for birds as Ruby notices other things, until Eva freezes. Watching her, Ruby recognizes her excitement and begins to sing again, scaring away the bird, to Eva’s dismay. But she explains, “It’s a bird I’ve only ever seen back home in Costa Rica…He’s just stopping through on his way north because this is the best patch of woods for miles around. He’s quite a singer, just like you.” With an identification – “He’s a Golden-winged Warbler” - and some simple suggestions, Eva plants the seeds, and the following Sunday Ruby persuades her family to go with her to the park, where she succeeds in finding “a warblerrrr!” At the end of the story, a page “About this story” provides a little information about Central Park, urban birding, and migration, with citations for two websites for more information. Additional pages offer more urban birds and “Ruby’s Tips for taking a nature walk.” And for the growing community of birders, it’s important that Ruby is not only a girl, but a brown one.
Like SFBBO, Cornell creates programs and content for birders of all ages, and books are one more doorway that can open into a new world for children. These are just two of many. If you don’t have time before the GBBC, try them afterward; they can help to solidify an interest or provide new ideas for exploration.
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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