Alphabet Bird Collection | Book Review

8 May 2013 by GrrlScientist, posted in Birds, Book review

Summary: A delightful book for baby birders that is crammed with poetry, information and gorgeous paintings of birds! Oh yeah, it teaches the letters of the English alphabet, too.



Magpie.
Image: acrylic painting by Shelli Ogilvy (2008).


Do you wish to share your love of birds, art and books with (your) children? If so, then you will really enjoy the Alphabet Bird Collection, a lovely children's book that was written and illustrated by Shelli Ogilvy [Sasquatch Books, 2009; Amazon UK; Amazon US]. This beautiful book is designed to teach children the alphabet whilst also teaching them a few things about birds.

Suitable for adults to read aloud to young children (ages 3+) or for older children to read themselves (if they haven't already memorised the entire book from frequent re-readings!), each letter is presented on two colourful facing pages in this hardcover book. One page features a painting of a bird whose name begins with the featured letter of the alphabet (see top) and the facing page includes a rhyming couplet about the bird along with a few interesting life history details. For example:

At dusk you might see from under the eve,
Nighthawks hunting, as they bob and weave.

In the evening Common Nighthawks come out to feed. Their large mouths and flying acrobatics can be confused with those of bats. However, their soft call identifies this bird rather than other insect hunters.

Well actually, not to be nit-picky or anything, but I think common nighthawks sound rather like semi-trailer trucks (articulated lorries) that have downshifted when they roar down a steep hill.

My only complaint is the book claims to include a "song" for each bird, written out on a musical scale and presumably representing what that bird's actual song sounds like. Well, the words may represent the bird's song (kinda-sorta), but writing the words on a musical scale is just wrong since different bird species sing different notes -- and this difference is not represented at all accurately even though the musical scale implies that it is accurate-as-written. Another (minor) issue is these birds are all New World species, which means that at least some of them or their relatives cannot be seen in the Old World -- unless, of course, they become desperately lost during migration, which does happen on occasion!

However, that said, I do love this book for its adorable poems and interesting life history information. For example, I was pleased that the author does not refer to gulls as "seagulls" -- a common mistake that many people make. But this book's primary appeal to kids of all ages are its many beautiful and accurate bird paintings. My personal favourites are "L for Loon" (common loon/great northern diver) and "P for Puffin" (horned puffin).

You may be curious which birds the author used to represent those challenging letters Q, X, V and Z? Well, Ms Ogilvy does have birds representing each of those letters, but their identities are something I'll leave for you to investigate. If you (and your relatives) don't have any kids of your own, you might enjoy purchasing this book for your local school library, just so you can enjoy it first!

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Shelli Ogilvy is an artist and outdoor adventurer who was born and raised in rural Alaska. She has a bachelor's degree in marine biology and has contributed to published scientific research on humpback whales and gray wolves. When not working as a sea kayak guide in Antarctica or as a camping guide in Alaska's Glacier Bay, she paints and pursues other creative activities. Ms Ogilvy primarily works with acrylic paint on either canvas or paper and sometimes combines mediums such as chalk, ink or spray paint. She divides her time between Gustavus, Alaska and Taos, New Mexico. This is her first book.

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GrrlScientist is an evolutionary biologist, ornithologist and freelance science writer who writes about the interface between evolution, ethology and ecology, especially in birds. She also has a deep passion for good books, especially good science books, which she reviews with some regularity. You can follow Grrlscientist's work on facebook, Google +, LinkedIn, Pinterest and of course, on twitter: @GrrlScientist

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NOTE: This piece is slightly reformatted to fit this space from the original, which was published on the Guardian.


One Response to “Alphabet Bird Collection | Book Review”

  1. Patricia J Hawkins Reply | Permalink

    Easy there with the critique of the musical notation! That's a musical staff (or stave), not a musical scale -- a musical scale is a set of notes arranged in order of frequency, whereas the staff is the latticework on which the notes are placed -- and this staff has been deliberately drawn to show it is NOT exact. It has only three lines instead of five, and the G-clef (the curly symbol at the start of the staff) is slightly askew; also, the curl which is normally bisected by the G4 staff line is not-quite-centered on a space. Further, the words of the bird-call mnemonic are written on the staff, where normally notes would be placed on the lines and spaces of the staff, with any words -- the lyrics -- printed below. The words don't fall exactly on the lines and spaces (this is NEVER true of notes in proper printed music) so it's clear we can't read them as exact notation.

    This particular illustration leads me to think that the magpie's call might rise and fall within a range of a whole step, or maybe a step-and-a-half, and when I check a recording of the call (not a local bird to me), that seems plausible -- it doesn't range a lot.

    A musician would recognize immediately that this isn't exact notation at all; a non-musician who tried to use it would need to do enough research to soon realize the same.

    I'm curious to see how she illustrates a call with more complexity and range, say a song-sparrow or cardinal.

    This looks like a lovely book; I can think of a youngster who would enjoy it, as would his parents -- come to think about it, I was just telling his father about Kroodsman's _The Singing Life of Birds_, and wouldn't that make a fun gift pairing!

    The following wikipedia articles were used and hopefully not abused to ensure the accuracy of this comment:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staff_(music)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clef

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