Alphabet Bird Collection | Book Review

acrylic painting by <a href=Shelli Ogilvy (2008)" />

by Grrlscientist on May 8, 2013 · 1 comment

in Reviews

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

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.

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. As a judge who helped select the 2013 Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize shortlist, 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 her eponymous Guardian blog, and also on facebook, G+, LinkedIn, Pinterest and of course, 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.

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  • Diana Lea

    I am in Mexico right now. Every morning I hear a bird singing in a perfect musical scale, starting high and going down 8 or 9 notes. Can anyone help me identity
    this beautiful bird song

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