CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 21. . . .February 6, 2015
A Children’s Guide to Arctic Birds.
Mia Pelletier. Illustrated by Danny Christopher.
Iqaluit, NU: Inhabit Media, 2014.
32 pp., hardcover, $16.95.
Birds-Canada, Northern-Identification-Juvenile literature.
Birds-Canada, Northern-Pictorial works-Juvenile literature.
Grades 2 and up / Ages 7 and up.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
As spring arrives in the Arctic, the sky hums with beating wings. From the faraway shores of Africa, South America, and Europe, birds wing their way North from all over the world. But why do they come so far? The Arctic summer is rich with food, and birds arrive in the millions to fill their bellies and raise their young. The air buzzes with insects, the ocean leaps with fish, wet places on the tundra swarm with tiny larvae, and fresh green plants reach for the sun. The Arctic shines both day and night, and birds can hunt for food around the clock. Their chicks must grow quickly, and gather strength for the long journey south before the snow flies again.
By learning where birds nest, what they eat, and how they call, we learn to open our eyes and pay attention to the little things in nature. When we follow the flash of a bird’s wing across the tundra, or part the grass at a pond’s edge to see a loon sitting quietly on her nest, we forget ourselves for a moment, and remember our place among the wildness of things.
In A Children’s Guide to Arctic Birds, Pelletier, a resident of Nunavut since 2010, introduces readers to a dozen birds that make the Arctic their permanent or temporary home. As part of her introductory material, Pelletier explains how birds are measured (metric length from the tip of the beak to the end of the farthest tail feather; and wingspan from wingtip to wingtip), provides a page of the 12 birds’ silhouettes in flight for size comparison purposes, and addresses the different types of bird feathers, beaks and feet and their functions. Pelletier also introduces three symbols that she will utilize to indicate if a bird is a year-round Arctic resident, a migratory bird, or a bird species in which some stay in the Arctic all year while others travel south for the winter.
The 12 birds are: the Thick-Billed Murre, Arctic Tern, Red Phalarope, Common Eider, Long-Tailed Duck, Tundra Swan, Gyrfalcon, Snowy Owl, Common Raven, Rock Ptarmigan, Red-Throated Loon and Snow Bunting. Each bird is treated by a pair of facing pages with one page carrying Pelletier’s text and the other Christopher’s full-page painting and a brief “Feathered Fact”, such as:
When a tern colony is startled, all the birds fly up out of the colony at once, circle around in the sky, and then settle back on the ground all together. This is called “dreading.”
After providing each bird’s “English” and Inuktitut name, its length and wingspan, plus its migratory/nonmigratory symbol, Pelletier provides a physical description of the bird. She then treats each bird under the same seven headings: Where to Look; What They Eat; Listen For; Nest; Egg; Chick and During the Winter. Though promotional material accompanying the review copy states that “Nearly 200 species of birds nest in the North American Arctic”, Pelletier does not provide any rationale for selecting the 12 birds she did, although one could assume that she wanted to offer a variety of birds as they range from the book’s largest, the Tundra Swan, to the smallest, the Snow Bunting, and from vegetation eaters, such as the Rock Ptarmigan, to the carnivorous Gyrfalcon that includes the Rock Ptarmigan as part of its prey. One of the opening endpapers provides a size and colour comparison of the birds’ eggs while a closing endpaper repeats the bird size comparison silhouettes from p. 3.
The publisher elected to use paintings to illustrate the dozen birds, and, while Christopher’s artwork is competent, his renditions of the birds lack the detail that one would expect to find in a bird field “guide” type of book.
Should A Children’s Guide to Arctic Birds be just the first in a series of Arctic bird books, Inhabit Media might want to add a pronunciation guide for the birds’ Inuktitut names in any further volumes. While the brief content Pelletier provides under six of each bird’s seven headings was informative and useful, that found under “Listen For” was much less so. To be told that “The gyrfalcon cries a sharp “KYHa! KYHa! KYHa!” call or a “Kak kak kak!” does not provide the information necessary to “hear” the gyrfalcon. A Children’s Guide to Arctic Birds concludes with a “Further Reading” section listing six longer, more comprehensive books about Arctic, Canadian or North American birds. However, if there are other Arctic bird books in the future, Inhabit Media might also wish to reference some “stable” websites on which the book’s birds can be heard.
Though A Children’s Guide to Arctic Birds might be of greatest interest to children living in the Arctic, the book also has a place in southern school and public libraries. While I may have to actually go to the Arctic if I ever want to see a “wild” gyrfalcon, which, according to a “Feathered Fact” “is the world’s largest falcon”, during one winter I observed a normally Arctic dwelling Snowy Owl in my own Winnipeg neighborhood.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives and observes birds in Winnipeg, MB.
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