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Birds of many feathers

Four recent nonfiction books give children a glimpse into the lives of birds. The following selections present complex topics, from cognition and communication to migration and species survival, in accessible, intriguing ways.

Puffling PatrolEach August, fledgling puffins make their first journey to their winter home. However, bright lights cause some to lose their way. In Puffling Patrol, authors Ted and Betsy Lewin join children Dáni and Erna, members of the Icelandic island of Heimaey’s puffin search-and-rescue group, on night patrol to help guide the birds to safety. The Lewins effectively combine their artistic and storytelling skills, capturing the beauty of the landscape — and the birds’ endearingly awkward appeal. (Lee & Low, 4–7 years)

Brid TalkIn Bird Talk: What Birds Are Saying and Why, Lita Judge explores the ways in which birds communicate both within and across species. Striking illustrations portray communication as a whole-body endeavor, capturing the creatures’ expressions and movements at key points. Without overly anthropomorphizing her subjects, Judge conveys the essence of communication and the beauty of the birds with clarity and humor. (Flash Point/Roaring Brook, 4–7 years)

Alex the ParrotStephanie Spinner’s Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird provides an engaging account of scientist Irene Pepperberg’s groundbreaking animal communication studies. Beginning in the nineteen seventies, and with a lot of patience and hard work, Pepperberg successfully taught her first subject, an African grey parrot she named Alex, language skills beyond mimicry. Meilo So’s striking mixed-media illustrations, with their confident lines and splashes of tropical color against white backgrounds, further enliven Spinner’s dynamic descriptions. (Knopf, 4–7 years)

MoonbirdOver the course of its lifetime so far, the rufa red knot B95 — a bird known as “Moonbird” — has flown some 325,000 miles: the distance to the moon and almost halfway back. Phillip Hoose’s fascinating account of this remarkable creature, Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95, provides details about one extraordinary bird’s life — and much more. Graceful prose describes red knots’ characteristics in addition to exploring the research methods of scientists who track the birds. A sobering look at prospects for the rufa’s survival brings readers down to earth while glorious photographs of the birds in flight will make their hopes soar. (Farrar, 8–12 years)

From the September 2012 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.



  1. Sarah Lamstein says:

    Katie Bircher’s mention of the Lewins’ book Puffling Patrol puts me in mind of Bruce Macmillan’s wonderful book Nights of the Pufflings (Houghton Mifflin, 1995), a story with Macmillan’s photographs of, again, children in Iceland helping pufflings make their way to the sea.

  2. Miriam Lang Budin says:

    Phil Hoose has single-handedly inspired my admiration of birds!

    First there was THE RACE TO SAVE THE LORD GOD BIRD–his account of the tragic, gradual extinction of the ivory-billed woodpecker and now there’s MOONBIRD–the story of another species undergoing enormous stresses in its struggle to survive.

    What an intrepid hero Hoose has found in the red knot B95! My heart was in my mouth as I read of the field biologists who search for this particular, long-lived bird during the annual migrations.

    Hoose’s vivid writing, meticulous research and brilliant pacing make these books exemplars of non-fiction.

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