Eight Birdy Books for Kids

November 11, 2023

A review by Rebecca Minardi

Timothy Musso’s gorgeous Chasing the Sun (The Creative Company) follows Arctic Terns as they spend their life on the wing. Musso’s woodcut illustrations wonderfully evoke the power of this species during their migrations that span the globe. The story starts in January when a female tern heads north from the Weddell Sea in Antarctica, and the narrative follows her as she meets a mate near the Kongakut River in Alaska; my three-year-old loved watching their chick grow from hatchling to fledging in a beautiful two-page spread. Each page covering the journey north and back south shows in an inset where the birds are on the globe while listing how many miles they’ve covered thus far. The Arctic Terns’ 50,000-mile yearly migration was captured by the final spread in the book where Musso depicted terns soaring out to the moon; in a 30-year lifespan, a single tern may cover the distance to the moon and back more than three times. This incredible species is marvelously detailed in Chasing the Sun, my favorite children’s book about birds to come out this year.
Listen to the Birds (Norton Young Readers) elicited a true shout of joy from me when I first used the accompanying Birdie Memory app to bring the pages to life. Through the app, each species featured in the book sings and moves right on the page. Donald Kroodsma, a veteran birdsong authority, teamed up with the artist, Léna Mazilu, and the augmented reality specialist, Yoann Guény, to develop a picture book and app that I have not seen the likes of before. The story guides the reader through a bird walk in eastern North America and another hike in western North America while highlighting species throughout specific habitats. Each spread of birds in habitats such as a “park on the edge of town” or “scrubby brush” is followed by delightful descriptions of the songs, calls, and other noises each species makes. You can see Kroodsma’s mastery in these paragraphs; without even hearing the bird’s song, you can feel it through his careful explanations, such as how a Hermit Thrush “whirls and twirls through his fluty ending” and how a Carolina Wren “pumps himself up with air until he is close to busting, and only then does the song explode from his beak.” This book will be treasured by both little ones and adult birdsong aficionados alike.
Though Border Crossings (Charlesbridge) mainly focuses on land animals, Sneed B. Collard III’s new book powerfully depicts the trials and dangers faced by the animals that call the U.S.–Mexico border home. In light of the recent news on the border wall’s expansion and the decline of the elusive ocelots, this book is timely for those concerned about the destruction of habitat along the U.S.’s southern border. But Collard gently and deftly tells the story of an ocelot and other species in the region without overburdening a young reader with too difficult topics. This is a favorite bedtime book for my five-year-old, as he loves the (spoiler) happy ending for another ocelot who is luckier to live in a part of the border that is yet to be walled off. In some of the best art among these titles, Howard Gray’s lovely illustrations realistically bring javelinas, Sonoran pronghorn, and the landscapes of the desert to life, showing that even Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls may fly too low to cross through the tall walls that separate our countries.
Feathers Together (Abrams) by Caron Lewis and illustrated by Charles Santoso is a fictionalized account of the true story of a pair of White Storks in Croatia. The tale goes that a custodian took in an injured and flightless stork, whom he named Malena. She eventually was joined by a male stork, Klepetan, who returned to her after migration each spring for 19 years. In Lewis’s rendition, the storks speak to each other, promising to return and reunite every year. Little kids will appreciate the touching scenes of the storks parting after sharing their feathers to remember themselves by and wondering what their mate was doing while thousands of miles apart. Though this story is fanciful and lovely, it reminds us all of the marvel of migration, the choices we make as humans to help non-humans species, and the soft thrill of coming home.
Love Birds (Abrams) is Jane Yolen’s newest book. The author of the classic, Owl Moon, teamed up with the illustrator, Anna Wilson, for a story of friendship and the power of birding. Jon, lonely and quiet, struggles to find his place in a new town until he runs into Janet, as they are looking for Barred Owls in a neighborhood woodland. They become lifelong friends, which is touchingly portrayed in a spread of illustrated snapshots surrounding the author’s endnote showing Jon and Janet building a life together. Each whimsical page is filled with crows and chickadees, flying Pileated Woodpeckers, swirling Barn Swallows, and singing wrens. This book will be enjoyed by the littlest birder and those struggling to find their place.
In Mélusine: Birds of Many Feathers (Kiddiewinks Publishing), Geraldine V. Oades-Sese crafts a story about a young girl’s quest to find a mystery bird whose song she has been hearing in her yard. We follow Mélusine as she tracks and records the sounds and sights of the species in her yard and compares them to the many words and languages she hears from the neighbors around her. Thanks to the colorful illustrations by Franchesca Guerrero, for which this is her first picture book, Mélusine’s world comes to life, filled with birdsong and friends. This title is great for any budding scientist, who will find the glossary of phases and featured birds section helpful, and will enjoy watching Mélusine solve her mystery, a quest every birder will find familiar.
Follow the Flyway (Barefoot Books) depicts the lives and migrations of waterfowl and shorebirds across the U.S. Sarah Nelson’s lyrical prose is matched by Maya Hanisch’s stylized paintings to show how species across habitats raise young until they feel the pulls of zugunruhe to head south. The arduous journey is depicted across several spreads, including a page showing a composite of perils and safe harbors: “The young ones learn a lot of lessons about buildings…buses…blizzards…foxes…grandmas…gardens…boats…and barges,” including a grandma with her garden pond and a boat to provide rest for a weary pelican. The final pages provide more information about migration and the species featured.
Collin Pine’s The Garden Next Door (River Horse Books) shows how habitat restoration, no matter how small, can have a powerful impact on native species, including insects, mammals, and birds. Tiffany Everett’s bright illustrations portray the story of three kids wondering why their yards have no fireflies, hummingbirds, and butterflies. When they follow these creatures to a hole in a fence, they discover a world alive with living things thanks to a woman who grew a wild garden. The children are inspired to bring habitat to their yards, and hopefully little readers too will wonder how they can invite more species to their homes. As someone who loves pointing out to my kids the wonderful diversity of bugs and birds that flit among native plants, I enjoyed seeing the scenes of young ones excited about hawk moths and monarch butterfly caterpillars.


Rebecca Minardi is the Book and Media Reviews Editor for Birding. She is a long-time board member and current Vice President of Detroit Bird Alliance (formerly Detroit Audubon) and a mentor in ABA's Young Birder of the Year program. She resides in Peoria, IL with her family where they are finishing up a backyard Big Year (87 species and counting!).