Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

A Wee Winged Warrior

If you listen closely, you'll hear them before you see them.  By remaining as still as possible, they'll hover close to you as they sip sweet nectar.  From your peripheral vision their striking colors are vividly apparent through a blur of wings.  Their size would seem to delegate them as delicate beings, but that is far from the truth.

Each year they endure an arduous adventure few humans would undertake.  Tiny Bird: A Hummingbird's Amazing Journey (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, April 14, 2020) written by Robert Burleigh with illustrations by Wendell Minor explores every aspect of this feat through facts, an exquisitely descriptive narrative and realistic, remarkable paintings.  You will enjoy memorable moments as you marvel at this inspiring wonder found in nature.

Today is the day.

In the yard,
the last orange flowers
open their petals to the slanting sun.

Three inches in length, a ruby-throated hummingbird seeks food within the orange flowers.  Wings moving rapidly, nearly imperceptible, help it to suspend above the petals.  It darts with efficient and succinct speed, sipping vital nectar necessary for the journey about to begin.

Tiny Bird, this ruby-throated hummingbird, knows with the arrival of autumn, its flight starts soon.  This bird, all alone, heads south of this well-known yard in the northeastern section of the United States.  Sometimes thirty miles an hour are traveled just above the treetops.  Along the way Tiny Bird still sips nectar from flowers and spears the occasional insect when diving closer to the ground.

In the nick of time Tiny Bird escapes the clutches of a hawk.  At times Tiny Bird rests, but the need to keep going is strong.  Soon the Gulf of Mexico stretches before the ruby-throated hummingbird.  It crosses this large body of water flying without stopping for more than twenty-hours.  With skill Tiny Bird uses waves to block the wind but watch out!  It's another close call by a predator.

Then the worst happens, a mighty storm.  Tiny Bird is losing strength fighting the wild weather. Salvation comes from two sources before the little creature continues once more.  Thankfully, in the light of a rising sun, a southern home is spotted.  A reward of rest and a banquet found in flowers await this wee winged warrior.

Information is woven into poetic lines by master of words, author Robert Burleigh.  Sound effects add authenticity to the narrative.  Alliterative and rhyming text supply a soothing but captivating cadence.  Readers are fully invested in this breathtaking and challenging trek.  Here is a passage.

It flits down.

Flower to flower,
backward, forward, under, over,
like an acrobat of the air!

Radiant green feathers glimmering,
ruby throat shimmering,
Tiny Bird delicately dips its beak
into the heart of each flower,
extracting precious nectar.

The enlarged view of the ruby-throated hummingbird, Tiny Bird, on the front of the dust jacket (I am working with an F & G at the moment, awaiting the arrival of the new release.) brings readers close to this astonishing being.  The intricate details will have you longing to have the bird take a moment's rest on your outstretched hand.  The pale blue wash of the sky provides a wonderful canvas for the brilliant bird and flower.

To the left, on the back, a dark grass green background, one of the many hues in the small bird, showcases an oval image taken from the interior of the book.  It is a startling scene of the ruby-throated hummingbird struggling to survive during a fierce thunderstorm.  An introductory sentence arches above the illustration.

On the opening and closing endpapers are a series of explanatory images about these amazing birds.  Each illustration is captioned with facts.  The size of their nest is compared to a coin, their stature with spread wings is shown, their egg is compared to another familiar egg and there is a map of this ruby-throated hummingbird's route.

These pictures, paintings by Wendell Minor, are rendered using

gouache watercolor on Strathmore 500 Bristol paper.

Each one is connected to the next, like a row of artwork hanging in a gallery.  Wendell Minor brings us close to Tiny Bird in a double-page picture or a series of smaller visuals.  Then he takes us to larger settings or landscapes so we can appreciate the astounding nature of this bird's life and trip to the south.  Sometimes we are observers and other times it's as if we are Tiny Bird.  We gasp at its near brushes with death and sigh when it is safe.

Each brush stroke adds life to each painting in a pattern of light and shadow.  The portrayal of movement is stunning.  We can readily hear the hum of rapidly beating wings, the rush of air from an ocean breeze along the Gulf of Mexico or the rumble and crash of thunder and lightning in a horrific tempest.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  It's a depiction of the storm Tiny Bird flies through during the crossing of the Gulf of Mexico.   The upper portion of the image is a darkened sky marbled with angry clouds only broken by a flash of lightning, forks extending to the horizon.  The horizon, a line, above the churning and white-capped water is an eerie golden shade.  The wind-tossed waves span the lower section of the scene.  On the right above splashing droplets of water flies Tiny Bird.  We are very close.  One eye is shown, determined and focused.  The wings are shown frozen in flight, one extended from the body and the other downward before it raises again.  You can feel the supreme struggle Tiny Bird is experiencing.

Compelling at every page turn, Tiny Bird: A Hummingbird's Amazing Journey written by Robert Burleigh with illustrations by Wendell Minor is an excellent informational picture book.  At the close of the book a section titled Fun Facts About Hummingbirds furnishes further items under headings such as How Tiny?, Really, Really Tiny, A Little Bird with a Big Appetite, More Than a Few Days and Feisty Hummingbirds Defend Their Territory (to name a few.)  There is also a page dedicated to How to Become a Member of the Hummingbird Helper Club. This section begins with a reminder to look, but don't touch them.  We are encouraged to plant particular types of flowers, place hummingbird feeders in our yards, given instructions on how to make a feeder and fill it with proper food and finally a list of books is shared.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Robert Burleigh and Wendell Minor and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  At Wendell Minor's website you can view illustrations from this book, including one of my favorite ones.  Wendell Minor has accounts on Facebook and Twitter(One of Wendell Minor's biggest fans is his lovely wife, Florence, who is also an author.  She has an account on Instagram where you can see his work.)  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

UPDATE:  Wendell Minor is interviewed at author James Preller's Blog about this book, birds and birding, our natural world and his amazing body of work and his art.

Be sure to visit educator Alyson Beecher's site, Kid Lit Frenzy, this week to view the selections chosen by other participants in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

1 comment:

  1. It's a new one to me and that they're by Robert Burleigh & Wendell Minor makes it even more wonderful, Margie. I am always in awe of their journey, loved it every year when I hear that 'whizz' and know they're back. A favorite memory is standing in the hummingbird enclosure at the Sonora Desert Museum one year & having so many fly around me, seeing the tiny nests. Thanks for a special review!