CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 2 . . . . September 16, 2005
Robert Bateman was only eight-years-old when he became intrigued by a black-capped chickadee he spied in a country lane near his home, north of Toronto. So began a lifelong interest in birds and bird-watching. This book, in which Bateman shares his observations about a variety of birds found in Canada, serves as an introduction to birding for young children. Each double-page spread features two types of birds with a common characteristic- they might both be birds of prey, members of a particular family (thrushes, for instance), have crests or build similar nests, and, in one case, their relationship is that of predator-prey. Some combinations work better than others- for example, the comparisons between the downy and the hairy woodpeckers. A sketchbook-style sidebar provides facts about the bird’s size, food, range, habitat and call, while the main body of the text draws readers in with interesting anecdotes about the unusual habits, calls and nicknames of the featured birds as well as tips on identification of similar species or evidence indicating the presence of a particular kind of bird in one’s backyard or neighbouring vicinity. Interspersed among the spreads are other sections which provide general information about birds’ adaptations for survival, their life cycles and migration patterns, as well as suggestions for attracting birds to one’s backyard and actions that humans can take to protect birds and their natural environment. (A minor flaw is the title of the spread highlighting adaptations. It is entitled, “Bird Senses,” but not all of the adaptations mentioned- feathers, for example- relate to senses.)
What is evident throughout the book is Bateman’s love for birds and the enjoyment he derives from watching them. The text moves along at a gentle pace and provides just enough information to foster in readers an appreciation for the little creatures it describes, while the illustrations, Bateman’s trademark realistic paintings, are spectacular, perfectly capturing the essence of their subjects. Extremely lifelike, they depict the birds in their habitats, both natural and manmade (barns, for instance). Bateman’s use of rich, yet muted colours, texture and the clever play of light and shadow contribute to the beauty of the illustrations. His small painting of a starling, splashing about in a birdbath, is so realistic in its depiction of movement that the tiny water droplets almost seem to fly off the page. The artist’s attention to detail extends to the end papers on which there are several sepia-toned notebook-style sketches along with a diagram showing a bird’s body parts. A brief glossary and a short list of recommended reading are included. The lone suggested website offers a field guide and bird calls.
Captivating and informative, Backyard Birds will appeal, not only to bird and nature lovers, but also to those who appreciate Bateman’s art.
Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.