the boy who drew birds

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Story time, everyone!

Today, we have a gorgeous book, which, although not strictly about trees, definitely invites one to take a closer look at (or in) them. The Boy Who Drew Birds is a story about John James Audubon written by Jacqueline Davies and stunningly illustrated by Melissa Sweet and is a joy.


(On a side note: Jacqueline Davies is from a neighboring town and recently came to speak at my boys' school. All the third and fourth graders read her book The Lemonade War for a school-wide book group. She spoke about writing that book - and its upcoming sequel - and signed some books for us.) 

We first see John James as a young man with his father in the lush green French countryside. And we learn that what John James most loved to do was watch birds.


Next we see him in the white, snowy Pennsylvania woods. We learn that he was sent to America to learn commerce and to avoid fighting in Napoleon's war.


But what John James mostly does is watch the pewee birds and wonder if the birds he would see with the coming of the spring would be the same ones who had built the nests the previous year.


As he wonders about the birds, we watch the seasons pass, marked on one page by four simple little drawings of a single tree changing. These pictures, like the ones above, really show how much we understand the seasons through trees.


John James comes up with the novel idea to band a baby Phoebe bird with some silver thread to try to identify it if it returns the next year. He waits for the beginnings of spring and return of the birds.


When the birds arrive, he is delighted to discover that the birds he'd watched and studied and drawn in his little cave were indeed the same ones who returned to the cave the following year. And the baby bird he'd marked with the silver thread had established its own nest nearby. I love how Davies frames Audubon's question about the birds as the wonderings of a young boy far from his home, unsure if he'll ever return.

Davies also writes about Audubon's drawings, emphasizing how he studied and came to know his subjects by drawing and painting them. After having to do a few drawings of my own for science class, it's nice to see how effective this very direct and observational approach can be.


And it turns out he might not have liked his drawings much more than I like mine. That's reassuring too.

In the spirit of John James, the education section of the Audubon society's website contains tips on incorporating nature into family time. The Audubon society aims to help kids battle what some are calling a developing nature deficit disorder. For example, they sponsor an annual backyard bird count, an example of citizen science that collects info from volunteers everywhere, who watch for birds over a four-day period and provide a snapshot of bird life in the country. The website also contains tips for teachers for bringing nature into the classroom and teaching outdoors.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Alison published on February 26, 2011 7:22 AM.

buds was the previous entry in this blog.

the mystery of the sticky burrs is the next entry in this blog.

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