The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch is just around the corner, taking place at any time between 29th and 31st of January, and I know that many early years settings are preparing to take part – adding to over 40 years of data gathering. Clearly, it’s a great springboard too for bringing everyone’s attention to the wildlife we share our environment with every day, and initiating (or increasing) an ethic of care and kinship with them.
A standout memory I have from my primary school years (when I was around 7 or 8) is when my teacher used to bring a rescued baby Robin she had raised into our classroom with her for the day. Imagine the impression on us in experiencing our school days shared with this tiny bird, occupying the same space! Ever since, wild birds have been valued companions in my life and I’ve many times seen how tuned to them young children are. What a blessing it is to feel such relationship on a daily basis – and what an important responsibility it is for us to nurture and maintain this stance toward sharing the world with others.
So, continuing our theme of sharing books on a nature-based theme (dandelions here and rocks here), this is an ideal time to share some favourite books about birds which work well for children and adults alike, and are best poured over together. Observing, admiring and appreciating birds is so much more than learning their names, but of course it’s interesting to hear the different names given in a variety of languages too.
Identification books certainly don’t have to be dull, and our birds lend themselves to beautiful artwork – Matt Sewell, Jackie Morris and Mark Hearld are all masters in capturing the essence and charisma of birds through simple, expressive works in pen and paint. High quality photos are of course utterly lovely to look through together, and help us to notice details in plumage and behaviour alike. And then, birds lend themselves in books as invitations from the natural world, characters in stories and even metaphors for living.
As this is a longer selection than usual, I’m just giving a brief description for each. I hope this wee bird library helps you to be as charmed about garden birds as I have been over the years, and also motivates you and your children to share your nursery garden with as many as you can entice!
1. Our Garden Birds by Matt Sewell (Edbury Publishing 2012)
Simple artwork that really captures the characters of the birds we might meet every day.
2. Birds by Jeffry Fisher and Christine Fisher (Chronicle Books 2009)
Simple, appealing artwork of a wider range of birds from around the world.
3. RSPB Garden Birds by Marianne Taylor (Bloomsbury Wildlife 2019)
Stunning photography of the birds we share our gardens and neighbourhoods – with lots on their behaviour, food and habitats too.
4. The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (Hamish Hamilton 2020)
Newly published companion to The Lost Words with gorgeous artwork and poetry mostly about our birds.
5. Our Songbirds: a songbird for every week of the year by Matt Sewell (Edbury Publishing 2013)
Equally lovely renditions of the birds we might hope to meet every day – a lovely way to focus on them individually, week by week.
6. My Book of Birds by Geraldo Valerio (Wren and Rook 2017)
The author says, “This is my artistic impression of some of my favourite birds. Learning about these birds makes me happy.”
7. Birds and Their Feathers by Britta Teckentrup (Prestel 2018)
An artistic exploration of feathers – a natural wonder – and ‘plumology’ (the study of feathers)! “Fertile ground for conversation and imagination”.
8. The Egg by Britta Teckentrap (Prestel 2017)
A similar exploration of the marvel that is an egg in birds, insects, reptiles, egg-laying mammals and human culture, with delightful artwork.
9. A Nest is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long (Chronicle books 2015)
Detailed and intricate artwork examining nests and their inhabitants across the animal kingdom
10. Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward and Steve Jenkins (Beach Lane books 2014)
An artistic homage to the skills, engineering and inventiveness that is involved in nest building – all without the advantage of hands.
11. Have You Heard the Nesting Bird? by Rita Gary and Kenard Pak (Mariner Books 2017)
Takes a look at the variety of calls of different birds, contrasting this to how quiet the bird who sits on the eggs to incubate them needs to be.
12. The Conductor by Laetitia Devernay (Chronicle Books 2011)
In this intriguing wordless book, the conductor orchestrates leaves on trees becoming birds that fly around and away and then plants his baton to become a new tree, providing a beautiful link between leaves and birds.
13. My First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies and Mark Hearld (Walker Books 2014)
One of my favourite children’s books: Mark Hearld has a very special way of capturing the essence of our more common birds, including crows, pigeons, hens and geese.
14. Owls: our most enchanting bird by Matt Sewell (Edbury Publishing 2014)
Really delightful artwork by the author of Our Garden Birds that will make you fall in love with owls!
15. Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson (Walker Books 1994)
Unlikely to need an introduction, but this selection couldn’t be complete without it.
16. A T-Wit for a T-Woo by Charlie Farley and Layn Marlow (Orchard Books 2018)
The brave little owl sets off in search of his true owl song – and a true friend to sing with him. Could be a book for supporting social and emotional development.
17. The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson and Paul Howard (Egmont 2008)
A baby Barn Owl who learns that the dark can be fun, exciting and magical.
18. Follow The Swallow by Julia Donaldson and Pam Smy (Egmont 2007)
This book can support awareness of how birds responds to seasonal change, with some staying and others migrating.
19. The Go-Away Bird by Julia Donaldson and Catherine Rayner (Macmillans Children’s Books 2020)
Humorous artwork telling a tale about how friends can help each other and life is better together.
20. A Short Philosophy of Birds by Philippe J Dubois and Elise Rousseau (WH Allen 2019)
This last one is for inspiring those who work with children. There is so much we can learn from birds: twenty-two little lessons of wisdom inspired by how birds live.
Photographs are (C) Carol Duffy and must not be used without written permission of the photographer or Early Childhood Outdoors. Book covers are sourced from Amazon.