Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Snug As Can Be

The sight of them holds so much promise.  They swoop, glide and soar from place to place looking for materials unique to their practical plan.  It's spring in northern Michigan.  Our state birds have returned building nests in which their distinctive blue eggs will hatch.  This year as mentioned in an earlier post my new planting of ivy was home to a family of robins for many weeks.

 Due to an experience similar to mine, author Jennifer Ward began to investigate about avian architects.  In her most recent title, Mama Built a Little Nest (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division) with illustrations by Steve Jenkins, she offers readers a spirited but informative glimpse at birds and their creative engineering (or not) used in nest building.  Fourteen designs destined to house eggs and their newly hatched inhabitants will increase our appreciation for our feathered friends around the world.

Mama built a little nest
inside a sturdy trunk.
She used her beak to tap-tap-tap
the perfect place to bunk.

As a team woodpecker parents carve a hole in a tree.  A trap used by one insect to snare others is needed to fashion a flexible home for some of our smallest winged wonders.  There are lazy or wily, depending on your point of view, birds that lay their eggs in other birds' nests.  Obviously parenting is not their forte.

Papa's feet fold around a single egg.  Scuffed in sky high stone protection is provided.  A creature of cactus creates not one, not two, but three or more nests hoping to attract a female companion.  Those not used serve an ingenious purpose.

Hanging homes, underground abodes, and floating rafts for one serve their babies well.  Walking along a shore line who can say whether its rocks or eggs.  Oh, they are such clever beings.

Body fluids, body waste and mounds of mud shape residences. Nests larger around than some readers are tall would make the best kind of tree houses.  These special resting places are incredible to behold; essential to survival.

On the left hand side of each two pages dedicated to a single bird, Jennifer Ward has written a four line poem; sometimes a single sentence, sometimes two or three.  The second and fourth lines rhyme calling readers' attention to a special characteristic about a specialized spot for eggs and the young.  Expanding on the original thought she provides more details on the right; intriguing items to further our understanding.

Luminous white is the background for the precise collage illustrations of Steve Jenkins.  Piece by piece, layer by layer, he builds two-page masterpieces.  The skillful layout and design seen on the matching dust jacket and book case are found throughout the book.  Identical opening and closing endpapers are green on green feathers carefully patterned from left to right.

Red feathers on the crests of pileated woodpeckers, slender beaks on hummingbirds, texture on rocky crags, spines and bright flowers on cactus, or eyes looking out, above, down or at you alive with inquiry are a part of each visual.  The perspectives selected by Jenkins draw your eyes into each illustration.  It's as if you are looking through the zoom lens of a camera revealing every intricate aspect.

One of my favorite pictures is toward the end where Steve Jenkins alters his background to match the shift in author Jennifer Ward's words.  Without giving away too much, it, as do her words, exudes warmth and a blend of the natural world with humans.  It makes a wonderful connection.

Mama Built a Little Nest written by Jennifer Ward with illustrations by Steve Jenkins is an outstanding introduction to this topic sure to encourage readers to take notice of the world around them.  The combination of rhythmic poetry, fascinating information and stunning illustrations makes this a must-have title in any collection.  There is an author's note and resources for further learning and exploration at the end.  I would pair this with Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LaBlanc Cate and Feathers Not Just For Flying by Melissa Stewart with illustrations by Sarah S. Brannen.

For more information on the additional works of Jennifer Ward and Steve Jenkins please follow the links to their respective websites embedded in their names.  By following this link to the publisher's website you can view pages from the book.  Author and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Julie Danielson, offers additional images in a post.

Every week my knowledge base gets broader and deeper through participation in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.  Enjoy the other titles posted by bloggers linked to her web page.


  1. We absolutely love this book. Perfect text to pair with Look up! Bird Watching in your own Backyard