Lawns, even those with sprinkler systems, are parched from lack of rain. When the water comes on robins fly down from the safety of trees to enjoy the cool wetness. Driving through the countryside the other morning, a hawk glided on air currents over a field looking for a meal. Nothing made by man has ever looked so glorious. Each morning and evening like clockwork the call of a cardinal rings out through the neighborhood. The sights and sounds of birds give us signals if we take the time to learn.
This spring as many migratory birds were winging their way back to northern regions a pictorial, informational tribute to feathered friends was released. My Big Book of Birds (Groundwood Books, House Of Anansi Press, April 12, 2016) written and illustrated by Geraldo Valerio like the subject it presents is full of wonder. Fifty birds are featured in this visual celebration.
... For years now, I have been making collages of birds using old magazine paper. Collage allows me to capture the sense of aliveness and joy I feel when I look at birds. The image is a door that leads me to discover and learn. ...
These three sentences are taken from an introduction written by Geraldo Valerio. They, along with the other paragraphs, convey the sense of passionate respect he has for all birds he has seen in his lifetime. With each page turn readers will discover why he included the word my in the title.
Attached to the majesty of the Golden Eagle is the fact that even today they are still taught to hunt in some countries in Asia. The art of falconry is not lost. Ospreys have special toes to help them grip the catch of the day. Designed for swooping and diving birds in the Swallow family have longer and more pointed wings.
The Snowy Owl does not limit hunting to the night but uses the light of day as well. It's mind boggling to think of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird flying as far south as Costa Rica or Panama when colder weather arrives. Two birds known for their intelligence especially when it comes to their next meal are the Common Raven and the American Crow. Did you know there is a bird so skilled at imitations, it can even sound like a cat or a dog?
Having only seen a Great Blue Heron in flight or wading in water, it must be quite the sight to see one of their nests in a tree. Physical attributes such as black spots around their eyes to protect them against snow glare and feathers on their feet to make snow walking easier, help the Rock Ptarmigan. Did you know there is a bird that mimics the reeds in the marshes where it resides by looking up and standing still?
Large nests in dead trees become homes for other forest dwellers, young still unable to fly have to jump from nests to eat, a discordant song for announcing which land is their land, and a beak for opening cones to get seeds are more unique qualities found in the lives of birds. Their survival techniques and adaptabilities are incredible. Watch and listen; they have much to teach us.
For each bird or group of birds Geraldo Valerio begins with a short introduction. For many of the birds one or two additional sentences will be tucked within the illustrations. Valerio does include the scientific name for each bird but his information is conversational and fascinating even for younger readers. Here is a sample introduction for the Black-capped Chickadee.
This sweet little bird is lively and curious. It spends most of its time searching for food and helps us by eating insects that damage farm crops. It also eats spiders, berries and seeds, and it likes to hide seeds away for a future feast.
One look at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case will tell readers they are about to read a title with remarkable illustrations unique to the work of Geraldo Valerio. To the left, on the back, the American White Pelican has its back to the Trumpeter Swan on the front. Creating a frame by facing it is the Whooping Crane. Ten other birds create an impeccable design within this frame. (The opened jacket and case can be seen at Valerio's website.) On the opening endpapers in their true color are the eggs for each bird. On the closing endpapers fifty single feathers from the birds are featured. No page turn is without an image of a bird. The verso and title pages highlight an image crossing the gutter of two birds resting on reeds.
All of the birds are placed in their natural habitats seemingly in motion. Some of them, the larger birds, cover two pages in a breathtaking display. Valerio might insert smaller descriptive pictures within the larger illustration; newly hatched babies in a nest, a bird diving for fish or a bird fleeing from a predator. Small birds from the same family are usually grouped together in a single illustration spanning both pages.
Although the images are done in his signature collage work, they are representative of the essence of each bird. Their individual mannerisms are portrayed with excellence. Clearly Valerio is a keen observer and skilled researcher.
One of my favorite illustrations is spread across both pages. It's a portrait of a Snowy Owl looking directly at the reader. Large and small circles in white frame the upper portion of the body. The wings are raised as if the bird is ready to fly which given it hunts day or night makes this a very realistic depiction. Three smaller scenarios surround the bird. All of this is on a cool blue background. This is absolutely striking.
My Book of Birds written and illustrated by Geraldo Valerio is one bird book which should be on every personal and professional bookshelf. The captivating images and small pieces of information are a wonderful combination sure to delight those who enjoy birds and will peak interest in those who are not yet watchers. This title will be looked at and read repeatedly by all kinds of readers.
A glossary, books, websites, books of interest to young readers (including a book talked about here by Melissa Stewart with illustrations by Sarah S. Brennen, Feathers Not Just For Flying) and an index appear on the last page of this book. To learn more about Geraldo Valerio and his other work please follow the link attached to his name to access his website. He includes seven two-page pictures from this book on his site.
Please be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to view the other selections by bloggers this week participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.