CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 27. . . .March 24, 2017
My Book of Birds.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2016.
52 pp., hardcover & pdf., $24.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55498-800-6 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55498-801-3 (pdf).
Birds-Pictorial works-Juvenile literature.
Kindergarten-grade 6 / Ages 5-11.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
Cormorants gather in large numbers near oceans and lakes, where they dive for fish. Afterward they like to find a place to dry their glossy wings.
These striking birds are named for the feathery crests that appear on their heads at breeding time.
My Book of Birds, a cross between an art book and a field guide to Canadian birds, is much more the former than the latter. In his “Introduction”, author/illustrator Geraldo Valério, who is originally from Brazil says, “When I moved to Canada, I discovered many birds new to me.... My Book of Birds is my album of artistic impressions of North American birds.... Collage allows me to capture the sense of aliveness and joy I feel when I look at birds. According to information on the copyright page, “The illustrations were created with old magazine paper, art paper, gift wrap, scissors and glue, with colour pencil and gouache for the endpapers.” The book contains Valério’s renderings of 51 full or part-time avian residents of Canada that range in size from the large America White Pelican to the tiny Rufous and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. While there is no obvious structure to the order in which Valério presents the birds, some of the larger birds, such as the Golden Eagle, Osprey and Snowy Owl, are presented via a double-page spread. Smaller birds are usually grouped, sometimes by colour (Blue Jays, Steller’s Jays and Black-billed Magpies or Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks and Northern Cardinals) or by “family” (Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds or Atlantic and Tufted Puffins).
The book’s text, the quasi-field guide aspect of My Book of Birds, is usually limited to the bird’s common name and Latin appellation (with no pronunciation guide) and a brief paragraph or two. Occasionally Valério will add another short paragraph to explain a secondary illustration. For instance, with the Mallard, the principal illustration features a drake while a smaller collage portrays a hen that is accompanied on the water by a couple of ducklings. The accompanying text reads:
The female may lay as many as fifteen eggs in a nest on the ground, usually hidden from lurking predators. Shortly after the fluffy ducklings emerge from the shell, she takes them for a swim.
Although the publisher identifies that an external expert has “checked the text and illustrations”, occasionally some greater clarification of the text is required. I always thought my home town of Winnipeg was in the “west”, but I’m less certain after reading the text associated with Flickers.
The Northern Flicker drills into the soil to find ants and their larvae, which it captures with its long tongue.
When these woodpeckers fly, you can often see a lovely colour underneath their wings and tails. Yellow-shafted flickers are usually found in the east; red-shafted flickers in the west.
I have yet to see a red-shafted flicker around Winnipeg.
The book’s opening endpapers feature Valério’s renderings of the various birds’ eggs while the closing endpapers highlight what appear to be a tail feather from each bird. A note cautions: “The eggs and feathers on the endpapers are not to scale.” And it should be added that the illustrated birds are also not to scale. It is important to note the “My” in the book’s title as it subtly signals that not all of Canada’s birds will be found in My Book of Birds. Consequently, avid birders will identify “omissions”, with one for me being the Ruffed Grouse that could have been shown alongside the Spruce Grouse. Though Valério’s collage illustrations can’t capture all of the feather and colour details of every bird, overall they are reasonable representations, and young readers will likely recognize those birds with which they are already familiar. For me, the only “failure” was Valério’s representation of the Mourning Dove where the head and body proportions are simply “wrong”.
The final page of contains a 10 term “Glossary”, a “For More Information” section that lists 10 books Valério used in his research, four Websites and four “Books of Interest to Young Readers” as well as an index listing the page(s) on which each of the book’s birds can be found.
My Book of Birds is truly a visual treat, one that will hopefully awaken a “birder” attitude in its readers who will then seek to discover living examples of what Valério has presented.
While in his late teens, Dave Jenkinson spent two summers working at a youth camp where he developed an interest in recognizing birds by sight and song, an interest he still maintains.
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