Monday, April 07, 2014

Science Poetry Pairings - Birds

Some of my favorite sights while walking to work are the birds. There are always a large number of geese and ducks, but it's the heron (if I see him) and the cormorants that really capture my attention. Birds have inspired my nature journals, my poems, and reading for many years.

Today's pairing (okay, it's a sextet really) is inspired by our feathered friends.

Poetry Books
Jane Yolen and her son Jason Stemple have collaborated on a number of poetry books with birds as the subject. To get a feel for the depth and vibrancy of the images in these books, be sure to check out some of Jason's bird photos. Here's an overview of these books.
Wild Wings: Poems for Young People - The first collaboration between Jane and her son focused on birds, this collection of 14 poems was inspired by the stunning photos.

Fine Feathered Friends: Poems for Young People - The second book on birds in the Yolen-Stemple collaboration includes even more gorgeous photographs and inspired poems in a variety of forms.

An Egret's Day - This third collection focuses exclusively on the egret. That neck! Those feet! Photos get up close and personal and allow readers to see this magnificent bird from every angle. Poems full of metaphor and keen observation tell us much about these birds. Also included is factual information. 
Bird's of a Feather -  The most recent book in the bird collaboration, contains 14 poems in a variety of forms, each accompanied by a brief bit of informational text.
One of the features I particularly like about BIRDS OF A FEATHER is the Foreword by ornithologist Dr. Donald Kroodsma. It begins this way.
As an ornithologist and obsessed with the details in the daily lives of birds, I know these eagles and chickadees and kingfishers and the other fine birds in this book. But after absorbing the poems and photographs here, I'll never see these birds again in the same way.
. . .
Scientists collect numbers and study the details, but these poems and photographs give us another angle, reminding us that birds are far more than an accumulation of facts.
Here's a poem and the accompanying informational text.

A Solitary Wood Duck

In the green scene,
in the emerald setting,
where pondweed chokes
the green, green waters,
one thing is not green.
A solitary wood duck—
          face glowing,
          flag face showing
          its colors,
          like an admiral's warship—
sails unconcernedly through all that green.
          We surrender,
          we surrender,
          we surrender to your beauty.

The wood duck (Aix sponsa) can be found in wooded swamps and in streams, ponds, and lakes. One of the few North American ducks that nest in tree holes, the wood duck also uses man-made nesting boxes. The day after wood ducklings hatch, they jump to the ground and often waddle many yards away to find a body of water, because they already know how to swim.

Poem and Text ©Jane Yolen. All rights reserved.

Nonfiction Picture Books
Bird Talk: What Birds Are Saying and Why, written and illustrated by Lita Judge, focuses on methods of communication, both verbal and nonverbal, for 28 different birds around the world. Gorgeous watercolor illustrations are carefully placed on the page with text blocks situated in a way that draws attention to both. The text is carefully researched and infinitely readable, presenting surprises and what will surely be new information to readers. Exceptionally well-organized, the communication messages are broken into sections that are carefully sequenced. 

It begins this way. 

Chirp, warble, quack,
coo, rattle, screech!

In backyards, meadows, and forests, the air is filled with bird talk.
But what are they saying?

Answers include "Pick me!," "I'm the strongest," "Greetings," "I'm not here," and more. For each message communicated, Judge then follows each meaning with specific examples from a number of different species. Here's an excerpt.

Come on, fly!
A mother's call encourages her young.

A young Peregrine Falcon is nervous to take his first flight from high on a cliff nest. Mother sits in a nearby tree calling sharply with food. Eventually he flaps toward her. She continues the training until he can grab prey in mid-air.

A Blue Jay listens for the call of his hungry youngster. The fledgling has left the nest, but isn't ready to fly. Her parent answers with tender feeding calls as he brings her next meal.

Kuk, kuk, kuk. A Mother Wood Duck summons her chicks just after they've hatched. They can't fly, but they can swim and find food once they leave their tree nest.

Text ©Lita Judge. All rights reserved.

Back matter includes a listing of the birds in the book (with additional information about the birds, their habitats and range), a glossary, short list of references, web site, and an informative Author’s note on Judge's inspirations for the book.

What Bluebirds Do, written and photographed by Pamela Kirby, is the story of a pair of nesting Bluebirds and their young. In the Author's Note that precedes the text, Kirby describes how the story came to be.
As I sat in the blind that spring and watched those marvelous Bluebirds raise their families, I wanted to share their wonderful story with young readers. The story happened as it is written. The behaviors and events are actual. The Bluebirds lived the story. I took the images and lots of notes.
The book opens with a gorgeous full-page photo of a pair of Bluebirds and the accompanying text on the facing page.
This is a story of a pair of Eastern Bluebirds that built a nest in my backyard.

They laid eggs, hatched the eggs, and raised their chicks.
Text ©Pamela Kirby. All rights reserved.

On the next double-page spread readers are introduced to the male and female birds (mom and dad). Closeup photos of each highlight the physical differences between the two. The following spread provides information about other birds that are blue and explains how the Indigo Bunting and Blue Jay are different from the Bluebird. From this point readers learn about the Bluebirds' courtship, their nest building, egg laying, hatching and growth of the chicks, first flight, and growth of the fledglings into little Bluebirds.

The text is written in simple, yet precise language. There is a glossary to help with difficult and/or unfamiliar terms, such as brood, fledgling, instinct, and roost. The text and photographs work extremely well-together, with photos providing clear, vibrant illustrations of the action. For example, on the page describing what baby Bluebirds ate ("mostly insects, worms, and berries") there is a photo of the female holding several mealworms and a caterpillar in her mouth, preparing to enter then nest.

Following the text is extensive back matter. Two pages are devoted to describing the three species of Bluebirds that live in North America: the Eastern Bluebird (chronicled in the book), the Mountain Bluebird, and the Western Bluebird. Two more pages are devoted to Bluebirds Through the Year, which detail a bit more of Bluebird behavior. Next are two pages devoted to Bringing Back the Bluebirds (did you know they were once in danger of disappearing?) and Bluebirds in Your Yard, which briefly describes where to find information about attracting Bluebirds to your yard. Finally, the author provides of a list of books and web sites where readers can learn more. She also lists some places to order mealworms for Bluebirds.

Kirby has done an outstanding job telling the Bluebirds' story while teaching readers a lot along the way. The final page contains the heading Bluebirds Rock! and a full-page image of a bluebird, up close and personal. Readers young and old alike will close this book echoing the sentiment.

Perfect Together
The poems in Yolen's books are a good starting point for exploring additional factual information about birds. For example, the poem on the wood duck makes reference to nesting in trees, as does the excerpt in Judge's book. Students might use the poems to generate questions they would like to investigate regarding bird behavior. While Judge's book will whet their appetites with additional tidbits of information, Kirby's book will give them specific examples of how a particular species courts and raises a nest of young. I'd use all three together, as the illustrations in Judge's book make a nice counterpoint to the photographs in the other titles.

For additional resources, consider these sites.


  1. What a lovely list of books today. I'll be busy at the library. Thanks.

  2. Once again, it's a good list, Tricia.I do know the Yolen book, but not the others. Thank you!