________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 4. . . September 29, 2017


Have You Seen Birds?

Joanne Oppenheim. Illustrated by Barbara Reid.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 1986/2017.
32 pp., pbk., $7.99.
ISBN 978-1-4431-5742-1.

Preschool-grade 1 / Ages 3-6.

Review by Sabrina Wong.

*** /4



A band, a flight,
a flock of birds --
the world is full of
lots of birds!


Joanne Oppenheim’s Have You Seen Birds? is a classic that will continue to charm and engage young readers for years to come. Although it was originally published in 1968, Oppenheim partnered with illustrator Barbara Reid on this revised edition published in 1986. Over thirty years later, Oppenheim’s text and Reid’s plasticine illustrations are a pairing that is still invigorating and fun. Have You Seen Birds? was the winner of the Canada Council Children’s Literature Prize (1986), the Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award (1987), and the Ruth Schwartz Award (1986), among many other honors.

     Have You Seen Birds? guides the reader on a rhythmic journey through a variety of different bird species, “[l]ong legged tall birds, tiny bug-sized small birds” (p. 4), always returning to the refrain “Have you seen birds?” This repetition provides a clear structure and can help young readers track their progress through the book rather than overwhelming them with the names of different bird species. Oppenheim clusters birds by their seasonal activity, habitats, and active times. Due to the challenging vocabulary Oppenheim uses, young readers will need the help of an older reader to read the text.

     Oppenheim never names the birds, instead choosing to describe them by their characteristics. For example, the illustration of Canada geese is accompanied by the text “leaving-in-a-string birds, coming-back-in-spring birds” (p. 9). However, readers who may not be familiar with all of the species mentioned will find a useful key to the illustrated birds on the inside back cover. Young readers have the opportunity to match these descriptions of birds to the bird names. This key could support a fun guessing game for readers after they become familiar with the book and wish to explore the content in a different way. This book would also be a fantastic inspiration for art or science projects in the preschool, kindergarten, and the younger grades.

     Barbara Reid’s choice of plasticine as the medium for her illustrations is apt for the visual content of this story: her layers of sculpted plasticine create depth and interest for readers. Although one might think of plasticine as a more solid, earthy medium than watercolour, Reid manipulates the malleable clay into dynamic and action-filled scenes. Her variation in composition and perspective makes readers excited to examine each one carefully. Her colour palette is rich, vibrant, and inspired by each bird’s environment. Her birds have life and unique personalities. On p.15, Reid’s plasticine owl zooms off the page and straight at the reader with its glowing yellow eyes.

     If Have You Seen Birds? is not already in your library, it is definitely one to add!


Sabrina Wong is the Teaching and Outreach Librarian at Capilano University in North Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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