Friday, February 5, 2016

Beautiful Birds and This Strange Wilderness (Flying Eye Books and University of Nebraska Press)

Nature is a beautiful thing, if you take the time to stop and appreciate it. Unfortunately, we seem to be moving non-stop lately. The concrete jungle is also ever-expanding. Technology is becoming pervasive and people can't seem to take their eyes off their phones. Today, I invite you to appreciate some beauty and check out these two books on birds. The first one, for young children, is called Beautiful Birds and is from Flying Eye Books. The other book is for the older crowd and is called This Strange Wilderness from University of Nebraska Press.

Beautiful Birds is a 12" x 9" fully illustrated "A is for" book. By this description, I mean that each letter of the alphabet has a bird associated with it. For example, "A is for albatross, the admiral of the skies. B is for bee-eaters, BEWARE any bug that flies." Each page is dedicated to one bird, with a vibrantly colored illustration, and a one-line descriptor, as seen above. As you can also see there is a bit of a rhyming scheme to this book, but a lot of the descriptors are too advanced for the intended audience of this book. "Q is for quetzal, a god among us." How many 7 year-old children will know about the Aztecs and their deities? If you take this book at face value, which is a gorgeously illustrated book that can teach your children the alphabet and birds at the same time, then it is a top-notch book. If your children have more questions after reading about some of these birds, then you could make expand the lesson for this book and research the birds that interest them. You could also use it as a beginner's field guide. Overall, a quality made book that your kids will enjoy reading through.

One could argue that no one loved birds more than John James Audubon. He devoted his life to discovering and painting every North American species of birds. The book This Strange Wilderness is a biography of Audubon and also includes some of his artwork, which is stunning if you have never seen it. The book begins with Audubon's birth in Haiti and the death of his mother he never knew. His father, a French sea captain and plantation owner, took him back to France where he and his wife Anne raised James and his half-sister Rose. James' father was responsible for his love of birds and his passion for illustrating them. Audubon was never happy with his drawings. He was so disappointed with them that he burned the drawings every year on his birthday with a vow to do better.

The book then chronicles the horrors in France, including the French Revolution, and Audubon's engineered escape to America. It was here where Audubon met his wife. He had three children by her, two boys, and a girl who died at a very early age. Audubon had several failed business ventures and contributed much to the study of bird migration, ornithology, and taxonomy while attempting to provide for his family in these business ventures that failed. There are times in this book that Audubon didn't come off as a particularly great husband or father, as he left his wife (albeit with her blessing) to pursue his lifelong ambition of finding, painting, and cataloging every bird in North America. The book continues to trace Audubon's journey across America and his keen insight into birds and sadly their eventual extinction.

Reading through this book felt like reading a story, not a dry biography. The Audubon quotes demonstrated both his intelligence and his personality. The book also is full of photographs of the Audubons and Audubon's beautiful paintings. I also learned a lot about Audubon that I never knew, such as his early childhood and the fact that he drew mammals after he completed his book of birds. This was a fascinating read and one that I would recommend for middle-school and up. It contains a nice blend of science and history and would also make an excellent book for the homeschooling crowd!

These books were provided to me for free by Flying Eye Books and University of Nebraska Press respectively. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!