It’s no secret around these parts that we’ve been bird watching all summer. Thornton Burgess’s books have been a nice fit as read-alouds, and recent titles have included The Adventures of Mr Mocker and Longlegs the Heron (linked to my reviews). I read a few of the Burgess stories when I was a child, but they weren’t really stand-outs to me. My daughters seem to enjoy them very much, and as sometimes happens, their enthusiasm has kindled a greater appreciation in me. (The same thing happened with Beatrix Potter. Something about talking animals going on here…)
The Burgess Bird Book for Children is one of the titles that has kept showing up as a recommended read on my Kindle. Finally I checked it out, downloaded it for free, and have been reading it together with the girls this week. Originally published in 1919, the book sets out to educate children about birds. In the preface, Burgess explains:
This book was written to supply a definite need. Its preparation was undertaken at the urgent request of booksellers and others who have felt the lack of a satisfactory medium of introduction to bird life for little children. As such, and in no sense whatever as a competitor with the many excellent books on this subject, but rather to supplement these, this volume has been written.
Its primary purpose is to interest the little child in, and to make him acquainted with, those feathered friends he is most likely to see. Because there is no method of approach to the child mind equal to the story, this method of conveying information has been adopted. So far as I am aware the book is unique in this respect. In its preparation an earnest effort has been made to present as far as possible the important facts regarding the appearance, habits and characteristics of our feathered neighbors. It is intended to be at once a story book and an authoritative handbook. While it is intended for little children, it is hoped that children of larger growth may find in it much of both interest and helpfulness.
I would have to say that the children both large and small in our home would give Burgess a thumbs up on his endeavor. This dovetails nicely with Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study, packing lots of the same information into a story form and setting me up to supplement a bit from the Handbook. I’m especially enjoying the material about the different nesting habits of each respective bird, because we’d like to hunt for some nests in the fall after the leaves come down. This will help us with the identification.
Another nice perk of The Burgess Bird Book is the volume of free study material available online. The Kindle version I downloaded isn’t illustrated, but this site has Montessori cards of all the bird illustrations. (They’re done not by Burgess’ usual illustrator, Harrison Cady, but by Louis Agassiz Fuertes, and they’re quite lovely. They’re also more compact for taking with you on a walk.) The site includes additional materials too — coloring pages, mini-book-making supplies for narrations of each respective chapter, a bird watching checklist, maps, copywork, and other things. The entire text is there as well — one of several online options, for those interested. Finally, my daughters enjoy visiting All About Birds and Peterson’s Field Guide to listen to bird songs and pick up additional tidbits.
If you’re interested in developing your child’s (and your own) knowledge about birds, this book is a valuable resource. I won’t say it’s action-packed; it consists largely of conversations between Peter Rabbit and various birds about their appearance and behavior. But the information is detailed, quite a range of birds is covered, and it’s presented with gentleness and charm.
Last but not least, here’s little bird we saw on an outing yesterday. I think it’s a female yellow throat, a tiny warbler we spotted first when she was perched on a blade of grass. I think she’ll make an appearance in chapter 25.
Be sure to click over to Read Aloud Thursday at Hope Is the Word for more read-aloud ideas (and, today, for some good words on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)!