March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Take Wing | New Books About Birds

Springtime has ushered in a flock of engaging new picture books about birds, fun-to-share offerings that utilize a variety of formats, illustrative styles, and narrative focuses to explore and elucidate the essence of these captivating creatures. Use these lovely titles to support a unit on birds, facilitate comparisons between different informational texts, and encourage imaginations to soar.

Bird Basics

abirdisabirdrockwellWhat makes birds different from other animals? With elegant clarity and great charm, Lizzy Rockwell introduces the common physical characteristics of this much-varied class of critters and gets to the heart of just why A Bird Is a Bird (Holiday House; PreS-Gr 2). Simple rhythmic text and dynamic mixed-media paintings point out a particular trait (a bird has a beak) and then provide examples of how this attribute is utilized by different avian species—a beak can pick fruit (scarlet macaw or blue-headed parrot), catch fish (white ibis or other shore denizens), peck (pileated woodpecker), or get nectar (ruby-throated hummingbird). A bird also has two wings (that “flap and glide” or “swim and dive”), starts out in an egg (and a nest in a tree or on the ground), and has feathers (for standing out like a male peacock, blending in like an eastern screech owl, and other uses). Uncluttered spreads depict an array of winged wonders from across the globe, each labeled with species name, and the images consistently expand the information presented in the text. In addition to introducing bird basics, this book could be used to launch discussion of animal classification and how scientist identify species.

Woodpecker World

WoodpeckerStunning to look at and a treat to read aloud, Woodpecker Wham! (Holt; PreS-Gr 4) focuses on a particular family of birds. April Pulley Sayre’s terse and punch-packing verses convey information while echoing the rat-a-tat rhythms of these beak-drumming wild creatures: “Swoop and land./Hitch and hop./Shred a tree stump./CHOP, CHIP, CHOP!” Steve Jenkins’s cut-paper collages are breathtaking, portraying a magnificent pileated woodpecker stretching its claws wide to cling to the bark of a dead tree on a crystalline winter’s day, or an aptly named red-headed woodpecker using its beak to nestle an acorn into a tree hollow beneath fall-tinted leaves. On each spread, words and text blend harmoniously to present details about physical traits and behaviors; this artful interplay not only encourages children to look and read (or listen) closely to form their own observations, but also introduces topics that can be expanded upon in in the classroom. For example, the phrase, “Hawk’s a-hunting./Stop. Drop. Hide./Quiet/on the other side,” paired with an illustration of a northern flicker perched beneath a branch while a hunter wings past in the sky above, can initiate conversation about camouflage, survival behaviors, and common predators. A lengthy appended section delves more deeply into the woodpecker way of life, further explains the highlighted attributes, and identifies the species featured (kids will enjoy flipping back to name each pictured bird).

Take Wing

SweepHelen Frost’s lyrical verses and Rick Lieder’s incredibly crisp close-up photos offer a spectacular ode to the wonder of fight as 11 species of common North American birds spread their feathers wide to Sweep Up the Sun (Candlewick; PreS-Gr 4). The poem hums with a sense of adventure and soul-stirring imagery (“your wings will/carry you far,/stitching earth to sky/with invisible thread”). Presented in razor-sharp focus against blurred backgrounds, the freeze-frame-style images are both precisely detailed and bursting with movement. A blue jay—wings spread wide and lit from behind, claws extended forward, powder-blue crest softly glinting—springs into the air and optimizes the power and exuberance of being air bound. Children can see the details of texture, color, shape, and positioning of a northern cardinal’s flight feathers as it soars across the sky, ready to “ride the wind and explore.” One house sparrow seems to hover vertically, wings stretched forward and clapped together, to shake raindrops off its head, while another navigates through the snowflakes of a nighttime blizzard. The photos are capsulized at book’s end along with species names and interesting facts about physical characteristics, diet, and range. A superb intersection of science, literature, and visual arts, this book can be used to initiate studies of flight, enthuse bird watchers, or inspire creative classroom projects.

A Place to Call Home

ANestisNoisyNow that your students are familiar with bird basics, expand your discussion to include other animals that share an important characteristic with the avian bunch. In Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long’s handsome picture book, informative text and enchanting watercolors compare different types of nests and the varied critters that utilize these homemade habitats to raise their young. A Nest Is Noisy (Chronicle; K-Gr 4)—filled with the “chirp-chirping” offspring of a ruby-throated hummingbird opening beaks wide for an insect treat, the “squeaking” of just-hatched American alligators, or the “peep-peeping” of tiny fox squirrels curled cozily together. Other attributes covered include size (the dusky scrubfowl’s abode measures more than 36 feet in diameter and is nearly 16 feet high, while a bee hummingbird’s home is golf-ball sized and made of stretchy silk that expands as the babies grow), building materials (lampreys move pebbles to create depressions called “redds” in shallow stream beds and gourami blow bubbles and pack them together to form a floating nest), temperature, camouflage, and more. The text provides fascinating facts and helps readers identify common behaviors among different animal species. The carefully detailed paintings depict sights such as a blue jay nest with gum wrappers, a metal pull tab, a shoelace, and a discarded snake skin interwoven among the leaves and twigs, or the lush-leafed rainforest roost of an orangutan parent and child. All critters are identified, inviting students to further research the diverse creatures introduced here, and think about similarities and differences between animal species.

Curriculum Connections

This article was featured in our free Curriculum Connections enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you every month.

Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.