Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Listen For Their Music

They appear when you least expect them.  There is the long-ago memory of holding a bouquet of fresh-cut zinnias while standing in my garden.  One landed on a flower to sip the nectar.  I stood, holding my breath.  There is the most recent recollection of digging up a new garden in the first few days of hot summer sun. Wearing a hat with netting to protect myself from the hordes of black flies, a sudden humming near my face had me freezing.  A hummingbird was there before my eyes.  Was I like some giant flower?  Was it coming to say hello? Or perhaps, and thankfully, it was coming to consume some of those flies.

In northern Michigan they are only here during our short summer months, but their tiny presence is a reminder of how resilient even the smallest beings are.  Hummingbird (Candlewick Press, May 7, 2019) written by Nicola Davies with illustrations by Jane Ray is a narrative piece of nonfiction.  It's a blend of the annual migration of hummingbirds and how they encounter humans during their trek.  It's a tribute to one of nature's jewels.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are tiny---they weigh less than a nickel---but every spring they fly up to 2000 miles from Mexico and Central America to spend the summer in the United States and Canada, where they build their nests and have their babies.

Let this bit of information sink into your mind.  Think about it the next time you have change in your hand.  That nickel you hold is more than the weight of a hummingbird.  Wow!

A grandmother and her granddaughter wait in a garden for their arrival.  Holding bowls of sugar water, the duo, hardly daring to breathe, watch as the hummingbirds hum to take sips.

Tz' unun! Tz'unun! 

The elder remarks to the child the birds will soon leave to go north, just like her granddaughter. 

A lone sailor at sea watches a plane pass as a hummingbird rests in the ship's rigging for the night.  These birds will lose a great deal of weight during their flight.  Farther along the route siblings wait for the visitors.  In addition to the feeders of sugar water, they have a bug dispenser to provide protein for the hummingbirds.

It takes hummingbirds until May to arrive in southern Canada.  Individuals and families watch them claim their share of nectar and sugar water placed by humans.  Their nests are as tiny as they are.  If you crack open a walnut, half the shell is the size of a hummingbird nest.

Do you remember the little girl with her grandmother?  One day in a park in New York City, she realizes the truth of something Granny told her.  Later, as the chill of autumn comes, so does a letter, a package and an annual guest.

In her writing Nicola Davies provides information which heightens our interest and need to preserve these precious birds and their habitats.  By including several stories of human interactions, she makes life on this planet an act of togetherness.  We humans are enriched by the existence and appearance of hummingbirds.  Here is passage with the accompanying fact.

Hummingbirds must fly south.  The trip is long and hard for such small bodies, and many of them won't reach their destination.

Roads, houses, and cities built by humans
mean that there are now fewer places for
hummingbirds to refuel on their trip.

Stunning illustrations rendered in watercolor and watercolor pencil with gold ink

begin on the matching dust jacket and book case.  Realistic, delicate and intricate elements bring readers closely into the realm of the ruby-throated hummingbird.  The male feeding and the female sitting on their nest gives us a unique perspective of the continuation of these birds' marvelous life cycles.  The breathtaking color of the flora and the birds is elevated by the cream canvas.

To the left of the spine in golden yellow, on the back, the floral scene continues.  It frames text inviting readers to follow a remarkable yearly journey.  On the opening and closing endpapers illustrator Jane Ray has placed a variety of hummingbirds among greenery and flowers.  Some are resting and others are in flight.  These elements appear varnished against the background.  This follows the text---

Their feathers flash in the slants of light.

(This technique is used throughout the book.)

An informative and beautiful map, prior to the title and verso pages highlights the residences of the ruby-throated hummingbird in the summer and winter.  A single setting stretches over two pages for the verso and title.  A tree, leafy branches and flowers border the text.  In the lower right-hand corner blossoms welcome a male hummingbird with their scent and nectar.

Each page turn reveals a double-page picture or several full-page pictures and even smaller images to accentuate the text and pacing.  Each visual is full of lush and luminous items contributing to elegant views of these birds and the humans along their path.  At times in a single illustration Jane Ray alters her perspective giving us a larger point of view on one side before bringing us close on the opposite page.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It is a close-up view of Granny's garden.  Spread along the sides, top and bottom are a glorious array of flowers, and leaves.  Rays of pale, golden sunlight radiate in the center of the two pages.  Hummingbirds on both pages seek the flowers.  Along the bottom of the right side, the granddaughter's hand provides a resting place of a male hummingbird.  To her right, Granny holds a bowl of sugar water.  Several hummingbirds are gathered there.

Through carefully chosen words and striking artwork readers are transported into the world of hummingbirds on their travels each year and how they survive.  The humans, as shown here, welcome them and assist them . . . as we should.  Hummingbird written by Nicola Davies with illustrations by Jane Ray is a title you will want in your personal and professional collections.  It, like its subject, is a gem.

To learn more about Nicola Davies and Jane Ray and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  At Penguin Random House and Candlewick Press, you can view interior images.  Nicola Davies has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Jane Ray has accounts on Instagram and Twitter. I hope you enjoy the video of Jane Ray speaking about her work.


Please take a few moments to view the titles selected this week by other participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by educator Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.

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