Did you know that the Changeling loves birds? I think I’ve given you a hint, or maybe two. Well, the sky is still blue and water is still wet, and she still loves birds. When I went on my trip to the bookstore earlier this week, the lovely people who run the store and I were chatting about my daughter, and I remarked that I really love how she can express her own taste, including this love of birds. The owner, who may actually be a character from Cat Valente’s Fairyland, now I come to think of it, vanished in a puff of smoke. When she reappeared, she was holding this book: Every Day Birds, by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, cut paper illustrations by Dylan Metrano. (Over here you can also find Dylan Metrano’s original art for sale. I mention this only because my heart is breaking that I don’t have the $350 to get the framed chickadee for my daughter’s room. Curses!)
You know, since I’m already talking about the illustrations and we have this beautiful cover right here, let’s jump right into talking about the illustrations. You see, I had one concern in buying this book. I adore the art, but it’s a different style than my daughter is used to for her birds. I’ve talked before, for both A Bird Is a Bird and Feathers, about my love of precise, accurate, detailed illustrations of birds for these children’s books: ones which really show you what the bird looks like, and are in no way cartoonish or exaggerated. Audubon for children, basically. You can see from the cover that Dylan Metrano’s gorgeous cut paper art is accurate and detailed, but the style is very different from the paintings the Changeling and I love so much in her other bird books. In fact, when the owner of the Children’s Book Shop handed this to me, I immediately blurted out, “Holy, it looks like a William Morris!” I was thinking of images like this pattern, “The Strawberry Thief,” particularly in his stained glass (on the left, sorry I couldn’t easily find better images for you):
Obviously William Morris has more lush detail curling around his birds, but do you notice the markings on the wings and tails? Around the eyes? The slightly abstract, leaded look of those dark lines, almost as thought they were stained glass? And yet, at the same time, they’re poised to move: I guess I’d call it an abstract realism. Can you tell I have a major crush on William Morris? (One day we’ll talk about my tendency to crush on historical figures, but today is not that day.)
Well, you get this vivid, bold, ever so slightly austere art for each bird (the chickadee is perhaps my favourite). And my concerns that my daughter wouldn’t take to it, or wouldn’t recognize her favourite birds in these somewhat more abstract forms, were patently ridiculous. Her reaction was positively gleeful: “Birds! Oh, thank you so much! Where’s the cardinal? I found the cardinal, look!” Nota Bene: Do not underestimate the Changeling. This has been a Note To Self. You may now go about your regularly scheduled blog.
All right, so we have our lively yet accurate illustrations. What about the contents? Well, part of the reason I started with the illustrations is because we go very much bird by bird in this book. Unlike A Bird Is a Bird, which goes by categories (types of beaks, wings, eggs), and Feathers, which focuses on feather types, Every Day Birds progresses only according to common birds of North America, one at a time, each one accompanied by a lovely picture. It’s an incredibly soothing read. We begin with a little verse:
Every day we watch for birds
weaving through our sky.
We listen to their calls and song.
We like to see them fly.
And then we watch the birds course by, one at a time, still in verse:
Chickadee wears a wee black cap.
Jay is loud and bold.
Nuthatch perches upside-down.
Finch is clothed in gold.
This, again, is why I wanted you to think about the illustrations first. When you think about these lines, you have to accompany it with one of those bold, strong pictures in your mind. This isn’t just a chirpy (dear God, forgive me) rhyme; it’s a warm partnership with the illustrations. They work hand-in-hand. What you get, in the end, is a series of bird facts, charmingly tripping along in verse, each one accompanied by a really clear illustration of the fact. After you’ve seen the picture and heard the words, you will never forget that nuthatch perches upside-down: there he is, clear in your mind.
So, maybe this doesn’t have quite the scientific accuracy of A Bird is a Bird‘s labelling of the males and females and so on, but it has extraordinary clarity about a few simple facts which children can easily learn to identify. Look for the bright yellow of the goldfinch. Listen for particularly loud blue jays. Watch for the black cap of the chickadee. The great blue heron goes fishing. Nothing here is at all fantastical, and these are all good starting points for anyone interested in birds. At age two, you don’t really need to be able to identify the finer points of the male vs. the female bufflehead, but you may be very interested in knowing that the oriole’s nest hangs from a tree. And this is all told in that lovely, easy-going poem which makes it very easy (as I’ve found out) for children to remember the bird facts!
There’s one additional point about the book I’d like to make: something I didn’t expect my daughter to care about at all, but it turns out she gets highly affronted if I neglect to include it in a reading. (I’m so sorry, Changeling, I won’t do it again.) At the back of the book there’s a list of all the birds included in the book, each with a thumbnail of the picture and additional facts about the bird. It’s great for a little further reading, but I wasn’t prepared for how much my daughter loves those pages. She goes through and, effectively, tests herself: “This is the sparrow and the woodpecker and the blue bird and the…” On she goes, running down the list of thumbnails, trying to remember the name of each bird. She’s in love.
For a perfect introduction– early, early introduction– to the birds you might see in eastern North America, I can’t see a better book than this one. This would be a great book for right before A Bird Is a Bird, which is a great book for right before Feathers. But they’re all great in any order, and my bookshop really, 100% pegged my daughter’s taste on this one. It’s amazing.