Birds of a Feather | New Books for Young Readers

Waking up to the sounds of birds chirping has me thinking about placing an order for my school's elementary bird study. Here are some of the titles on my list.

Most years, in the school where I work, our second grade students embark on a bird study. Reading, research, field trips, and a culminating activity are all part of the work. Almost every child who participates becomes a dedicated birder, as do their family members, and every new book purchased on the subject gets borrowed immediately. Even though we're city folk, when spring arrives many of us wake up to the sounds of birds chirping; lately those chirps and tweets have me thinking about placing my next order of bird books. Here are some of the titles you’ll find on my list.

BULION, Leslie. Superlative Birds. illus. by Robert Meganck. 56p. glossary. notes. Peachtree. Mar. 2019. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9781561459513.
Gr 3-7–This combination poetry/science book successfully blends language arts and science into an informative and fun collection of poems about the fastest, smallest, biggest, and most interesting birds. Each page includes a short poem about one of the most notable birds in the world, commenting on what makes them miraculous and a standout, followed by a few paragraphs of additional background information. Each poem is structurally catered to the particular bird it highlights, such as a poem in the shape of a penguin, or a loud free verse poem for the loudest birds, like the Salmon-crested Cockatoo and the Kakapo. The sometimes challenging vocabulary level may seem better suited for an older middle school reader, but beautiful illustrations combine cartoonish and anatomically correct representations with bright colors that pop to make this a treat anyone can enjoy. The notes section explains the structures and rhyming patterns of each poem and helps readers better understand the poems’ forms and styles. Also included is a short glossary of terms and reference guide for resources on birding and bird watching. VERDICT A “top of the class” example of combining two different subjects that are approachable and a joy to read. A win for science and English classrooms.–Thomas Jonte, Pensacola State College, FL

COLLARD III, Sneed B. Birds of Every Color. photos by Sneed B. Collard III & Braden Collard. 35p. glossary. photos. Bucking Horse. Feb. 2019. Tr $17. ISBN 9781732875302.
Gr 3-5–Birds’ colors are no accident, as author Collard III explains their importance to birds’ survival around the world. Their colors signal their health and prospects as a mate, their standing in a territory, and their status and relationship to other members of a flock. Bright full-color photographs on every page beautifully illustrate the dazzling reds, blues, yellows, and iridescent purples and metallic hues. The author’s succinct explanations of how feathers and skin get their colors through pigmentation or the layering of feathers are clear and easy to understand, with helpful pronunciation guides right next to the words—“KEHR-uh-tin”, “EAR-uh-DEH-sense.” A one-page glossary defines bird-specific vocabulary and takes the mystery out of what might be unfamiliar terms for young readers. “How Many Colors Do You See?” invites readers to look closely at the colors of 12 very different birds in a two-page gallery of thumbnail photographs. VERDICT Beyond beautiful to look at, this title is an engaging and informative addition to every collection.–Frances E. Millhouser, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library, VA

COLLARD III, Sneed B. Woodpeckers: Drilling Holes and Bagging Bugs. photos by Sneed B. Collard III. 48p. further reading. glossary. index. Bucking Horse. Apr. 2018. Tr $17. ISBN 9780984446094.
Gr 2-4–Starting with their defining characteristics, this volume provides an informative overview of woodpeckers. Starting with the question, “Why do woodpeckers peck into trees so much?” Collard leads readers through details about the birds’ diets, behaviors, habitats, and family relationships. The main narrative concludes with ideas about supporting woodpeckers by protecting their habitats. The information is presented in short chapters that are straightforward and understandable, with conversational text and many jokes sprinkled throughout. Included within the main body of text are several asides which highlight selected characteristics of woodpeckers as well as notable species; these tidbits are denoted with different text and background colors. Photos of the birds are crisp and clear, allowing readers to see the woodpeckers’ physical characteristics and compare species. In addition to the back matter, Collard includes some photo bloopers. VERDICT A solid addition to elementary nonfiction nature sections.–­Sarah Reid, Four County Library System, NY

DAVIES, Nicola. Hummingbird. illus. by Jane Ray. 32p. bibliog. index. Candlewick. May 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781536205381.
K-Gr 3–The book’s narrative opens in a garden, as a girl and her grandmother bond while watching and listening to hummingbirds. But the girl must leave for the United States and say goodbye to her grandmother, just as the ruby-throated hummingbirds must say goodbye to Central America and fly north. Factual details about hummingbirds are showcased in bolded text without detracting from the story. Though short, the back matter consists of an informational page, index, and bibliography that supplies additional information. Davies seamlessly weaves facts about hummingbird migration into a fictional narrative, with each aspect of the book enhancing, but never outshining, the other. Ray’s bright watercolor illustrations bring out the warmth in the interactions that characters have with one another and with the hummingbirds. Though the girl and her grandmother are almost immediately separated, the hummingbirds’ journey from Central America to New York and back again make that great distance seem less vast. Perfect for a read-aloud, this picture book is educational while providing opportunities for readers to connect with a story about human migration and family relationships. VERDICT The book, a colorful blend of fact and fiction, raises the bar for its genre and will leave many readers hopeful to hear the “Tz’unun! Tz’unun!” of hummingbird wings in their own gardens. A wonderful addition to any informational picture book collection.–Lauren Hathaway, University of British Columbia

LEMNISCATES, Carme. Birds. illus. by Carme Lemniscates. 40p. Candlewick. Mar. 2019. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781536201789.
PreS-Gr 3–This introduction will inspire young readers to open their ears and eyes to the beauty and diversity of birds. The first half of the book highlights their differences with simple comparisons and contrasts. “Some like to show off, while others would rather watch.” This spread features a flamboyant peacock on the recto and two wide-eyed owls perched on a branch on the verso. Size, song, homes, and migratory habits are also mentioned. The second half of the text highlights how people observe and appreciate birds. “A bird’s song is like the loving words of a friend....Birds are free. They make our imaginations soar.” Crisp, bold mixed-media illustrations on a white background enhance readers’ understanding of the text. A huge, fierce eagle flies high above a bird’s-eye view of the fields below while a tiny blue hummingbird sips nectar from a luscious pink cherry blossom. The endpapers are adorned with myriad feathers. Pair with Kevin Henkes’s Birds or Lizzy Rockwell’s A Bird Is a Bird for a soaring storytime. VERDICT Even the youngest audience will appreciate this celebration of our fine feathered friends.–Barbara Auerbach, Cairo Public Library, NY

MEISEL, Paul. My Happy Year by E. Bluebird. illus. by Paul Meisel. 40p. (A Nature Diary). glossary. websites. Holiday House. Mar. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780823438372.
Gr 2-4–It is E. Bluebird’s birthday! E. is an Eastern Bluebird, and this story takes readers through a year in her life beginning at day one. When E. and her siblings hatch, they cannot see and must rely on their mother for food. As they grow, their eyesight improves and they begin to grow feathers, and eventually become more comfortable striking out on their own. Will E. be brave enough to leave the nest in time for her family’s great migration? Short sentences, large text, and bright, vivid illustrations engage readers, whether bluebirds are familiar to them or not. Though it is nonfiction, the work reads as fiction for an early reader due to the design, word choice, and sentence length. A spread at the beginning provides more detailed information about bluebirds and serves to introduce children to the real animals upon which this story is based. ­VERDICT An excellent addition to library nonfiction sections that provides an enjoyable option for emerging readers who prefer reading more factual literature.–Mary Lanni, Denver Public Library

redstar ROTH, Susan L. Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me. illus. by Susan L. Roth. 40p. Holiday House/Neal Porter Bks. May 2019. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780823442829.
Gr 2-4 –What do award-winning, children’s book author-illustrator Roth and bowerbirds have in common? As Roth explains in this charming informational picture book, both bowerbirds (native to Australia and New Guinea) and she (a resident of Queens, NY) scavenge colorful, bright, shiny objects from nature and the world around them. However, their purposes are different. With her fascinating finds, Roth fashions eye-popping collages to make books; male bowerbirds build elaborately decorated, leafy structures (not nests) to attract mates. On facing spreads throughout, Roth demonstrates how she and her avian counterparts locate and arrange their respective collections to create meticulous, eye-catching “unexpected compositions.” Children will be amused that both human and feathered artists use “tools” similarly: the bowerbird’s beak “operates like tweezers” and “his feet are like my hands.” Roth’s writing is simple, direct, and inspirational. Students will gain a clear idea of how much can be learned by watching birds utilize odd bits to optimal creative advantage. The book’s collages fly off the pages with color and energy, and the strands of Roth’s artfully disheveled hair even resemble feathers. Enhancing the title’s usefulness are the author’s notes in the back matter about bowerbirds, and their and her own work methods. VERDICT Recommended for public and school collections. This vibrant book will work well as a read-aloud in a group setting and as a springboard/introduction for creative-thinking and creative-art sessions.–Carol Goldman, formerly at Queens Library, NY

THOMPSON, Mya. Ruby’s Birds. illus. by Claudia Dávila. 36p. Cornell Lab. Mar. 2019. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781943645336.
PreS-Gr 2–This enlightening introduction to birding captures the wonder and excitement of nature. Ruby, a young black child, loves to sing, make music, and generally add noise and excitement to her world. Ruby has never gone bird-watching until the day that Eva, her neighbor, takes her on a walk to Central Park. Ruby thinks they’re just there to play, but actually they are on a bird-watching mission, for Eva is hoping to catch sight of a special bird from her homeland. With Eva’s help and some practice, Ruby learns how to move carefully, pay attention, and wait patiently in order to see the birds that are present all around her. Published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, this is a perfect resource for anyone hoping to spark curiosity about the avian world. Bright, clear illustrations feature 14 birds that readers can discover hidden throughout the pages, and the dust jacket transforms into a wall poster. Back matter discusses how readers can find birds at home and in their city, includes links to online resources, and offers tips from Ruby for taking a nature walk. ­VERDICT Chock-full of information, this title is an excellent read-aloud or read-alone ­addition to any library.–Laken ­Hottle, Providence ­Community Library

TOGO, Narisa. Magnificent Birds. illus. by Narisa Togo. 32p. Candlewick. Sept. 2018. Tr $20. ISBN 9781536201697.
Gr 2-4–The word magnificent can mean many things, and each of these birds possesses a special quality or ability. This picture book aviary features full-color spreads with one or two informative paragraphs for each. The artwork is intricate reduction linocuts. The soft colors reveal each bird in its natural habitat, often shown with a piece of fruit, fish, or other prey in its bill. The Bald Eagle and its spectacular flight displays and the tiny Ruby-throated hummingbird’s amazing flying represent North America. From New Zealand is the Kakapo, a rare large green parrot that can live up to 90 years. This introduction to some of the world’s most amazing birds—largest wingspan (Wandering Albatross), longest bill (Australian Pelican), most unusual plumage (Great Bird of Paradise), and the furthest nonstop flight (Bar Tailed Godwit)—is a fabulous starting point for nature lovers and bird watchers. VERDICT Good for browsing and learning about the versatility of birds, recommend for all collections.–Frances E. Millhouser, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library, VA

WILSON, Mark. Owling: Enter the World of the Mysterious Birds of the Night. 120p. chart. glossary. index. Storey. Mar. 2019. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781612129624.
Gr 3-7–Readers get full coverage of the mysterious bird in this accessible book. Divided into four parts, the first gives a general overview of owl traits including their anatomy and nesting habits. The second section, which takes up the bulk of the book, focuses on nineteen species. The third part explains how to find owls, and the fourth talks about working with them. Generous pictures and graphics throughout help break up the text and give perspective to the readers. For example, with each species, silhouettes compare the owl’s size to a crow’s size. There is colorful font to highlight words, although not all the words are defined within the text or in the glossary. The text also often references page numbers for more information. The back matter consists of a glossary, a list of places to see owls in captivity in the United States and Canada, an index, and metric conversion charts. VERDICT A user-friendly guide for students looking to write a report on owls.–Elissa Cooper, Helen Plum Memorial Lib., Lombard, IL

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