Elem. – Harriet’s Ruffled Feathers: The Woman Who Saved Millions of Birds

McCullough, Joy. Harriet’s Ruffled Feathers: The Woman Who Saved Millions of Birds. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2022.  Unpaged.  978-1-534-48676-8. Grades 1-3. $17.99.

Harriet Hemenway loved hats, as did many women in Boston in 1896. At that time, millinery was decorated with all manner of bows, flowers, ribbons, feathers, and even dead birds-the more the better. One day at breakfast, Harriet was surprised to read in the newspaper that millions of birds were killed every year to supply these decorative notions. With the support of her cousin Minna, Harriet began a campaign to stop the slaying of these beautiful creatures for fashion’s sake.  The cousins invited society women to tea, where the guests were horrified to hear about the carnage. More women pledged to boycott feathered fashions and the movement to save birds gained traction. The cousins asked bird scientists to give lectures and recruited influential people to help form an organization whose mission was the protection of earth’s feathered friends. And so the Audubon Society was founded. Word spread to other states and even to Queen Victoria and President Theodore Roosevelt, who signed a bill establishing federal bird reservations. McCullough uses avian word play to make the text more engaging, with such witty phrases as “[Harriet’s] feathers were too ruffled to eat” and “great big ostrich of a problem.” Galotta’s large scale illustrations done in watercolor are soft and very appealing. The color and detail in the drawings of various birds is wonderful. The back matter contains more information about the Audubon Society and birdwatching.

THOUGHTS: This fictionalized picture book account of the accomplishments of Harriet Hemenway is a delight. It will ignite a discussion on conservation and advocacy and shows how one person can effect change. This book is a good choice for Earth Day and is a must have for elementary collections. McCullough’s middle grade novel Across the Pond, is also about birds and was inspired by a British girl who loved and wrote about birdwatching.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member 

Elem./MG – Across the Pond

McCullough, Joy.  Across the Pond. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021.  978-5344-7121-4. 276 p. Grades 4-6. $17.99.

Twelve year old Calliope is excited to move from sunny San Diego to not so sunny Scotland. Her parents inherited a castle from Lady Whittington-Spence, who knew her parents as students. Callie sees this move as an opportunity to have a fresh start, after dealing with friend issues back home. Sid, a girl her age living on the estate with her grandfather, the caretaker, does not seem interested in becoming friends. Callie’s parents insist that she join a club where she can socialize with others her age. So Callie joins a birdwatching (“twitching”) club, but is kicked out when she disagrees with the adult leader. Sid and Callie become tentative friends and go bird watching together. During a twitching competition on the estate, alarming events help both girls realize how to be a true friend while staying true to themselves. The author uses flashback to tell the parallel story of Lady Whittington-Spence as a young war evacuee. Her letters disclose the same feelings of loneliness and interest in birdwatching as Callie. Another flashback toward the end reveals the peer pressure incident in San Diego that shattered Callie’s self-esteem. The unique setting, based on McCullough’s own experience, takes this narrative of young adolescent struggles to a different level. As the book comes to an end, the author has one more surprise to share.

THOUGHTS: Although the story gets off to a slow start, readers who stick with it will be rewarded. Preteen and young teenagers will be able to relate to the issues of facing peer pressure and developing friendships.  An excellent choice for elementary and middle school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – She Heard the Birds: The Story of Florence Merriam Bailey Pioneering Nature Activist

D’Aquino, Andrea. She Heard the Birds: The Story of Florence Merriam Bailey Pioneering Nature Activist. Princeton, Architectural Press, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-648-96050-5. $18.95. Grades 1-3.

This picture book biography is the story of a woman who made a difference. Florence Merriam Bailey grew up in the late 19th century with her family who loved nature. Her mother was an astronomer and her father took the family on a summer long camping trip where she loved to observe the forest animals. Florence’s favorite creatures were birds and she studied their behavior and songs. She strongly disliked the latest fashion in hats, which were adorned with feathers and even the actual carcasses of birds. Bailey and her classmates at Smith College initiated a successful boycott of these hats. Florence became an avid ornithologist and promoted watching birds in a natural setting with binoculars in contrast to scientists who studied them in laboratories. She was the author of a field guide and other books on birds and their methods of communication. The author’s full bleed illustrations are done using hand-painted collage, oil pastel and pencil. Readers will enjoy examining the many colorful birds that are depicted.

THOUGHTS: This book is a great choice for elementary collections. It could be used during Women’s History Month, Earth Day or in science units. Children will learn about the wonder and beauty of our feathered friends and may be inspired to do some birdwatching on their own.

921 Biography          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
598.2 Birds