Encouraging a love of books and birds from a young age is one of the best things you can do for a developing mind, and for the world. Since 1967 there has been an International Children’s Book Day held around Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday, April 2nd, in a bid to inspire a love of reading in children of all ages.
Mr Andersen gave the world one of the most beloved stories of all time in the form of The Ugly Duckling, a fable of pride, prejudice and inner beauty all based around the life of one little bird.
Books do live on, as does the natural world.
Harnessing that eager energy and helping children understand the world around them gives them the opportunity to discover how to help wherever help is needed. Sadly, when it comes to birds, that help is needed more than ever, so getting the next generation of bird lovers on board from an early age is crucial.
Thankfully there is a plethora of resources, online of course, but also in the physical world in the form of wonderfulbooks, designed and written specifically to cater to the budding ornithologist within.
Lost in time?
Some years ago, British nature author Dr Robert Macfarlane read an article that sent dread coursing through his soul – that year’s edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary was being released after some revisions.
As new lexicon emerges, editors of dictionaries consider if its use is widespread enough to warrant inclusion. Words such as broadband, voicemail, and so on had become mainstream enough to fit the bill. However, to avoid an ever-expanding tome that could soon become a towering monolith, the editors also remove words that have fallen out of use.
They decided that the following, in a long list of others, should no longer be included: bluebell, acorn, kingfisher, heron, conker, magpie, willow. The definition of the fruit of a bramble bush was nudged down a notch to accommodate the new first place, the mobile phone brand, BlackBerry.
As the world’s next generation of humans embraced the next generation of technology, the great outdoors began to fade into insignificance, and children were simply no longer saying these words or making associations with them.
The notion that a child could be unable to identify a hare in a field or an oaktree at a crossroads filled Macfarlane with great sadness and made him think about his own connection between childhood and nature.
In an attempt to stem fears for what this may mean for the future of conservation, in 2017 Macfarlane collaborated with artist Jackie Morris, and together they created The Lost Words, a simply stunning book casting magical spell-like poems of wrens, ravens and starlings as the flora and other fauna of the great outdoors scurries and weaves across its pages.
Profits from the book are donated to Action for Conservation, an organisation that aims to educate young people about the issues the natural world faces. Once word about the book got out, a groundswell of support saw thousands of copies bought and donated to schools, youth clubs, and community centres where everyone could feel these words in their mouths again. The poems are meant to be read out loud, parent to child, peer to peer, educator to educated.
Sound and colour
Hearing birdsong at the push of a button is a fantastic way to familiarise the very young mind with the range of sounds outside, and Listen to the Birds by Marion Billet is a great starting point. This interactive board book with its brightly coloured drawings and excellent sound effects has become an international bestseller and a hit with babies and toddlers (or their parents, at least).
Encouraging a love of books and birds from a young age is one of the best things you can do for a developing mind, and for the world.
The Randolph Caldecott Medal is an honour that recognises the value picture books for children can have on a young reader’s education and experiences. One such recipient is the classic Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, who tells the tale of a father and his daughter out looking for great horned owls one moonlit winter night. The enchanting atmosphere the book conveys never fails to engage both adult and child alike, and can set the scene for your own torchlit wander.
There are many colouring books available on the market, and you can’t go wrong with the beautiful and realistic Audubon Birds Coloring Book; adults are also tempted by this, so no arguing over the pencils please.
Reading about your own age group can be very powerful; one such person who is doing her absolute best to encourage birding and unite young like-minded people is Dr Mya-Rose Craig, aka Birdgirl. Recognising her own experience of growing up as a biracial child whose love of birds and all things nature has led her to campaign on environmental issues, she realised that peers from similar backgrounds must exist and who also had a voice that should be, and perhaps wasn’t being, heard.
Eventually finding another 30 like-minded young environmentalists around the world, she has documented their aims and ideas in a book called We Have a Dream. A must-read for all teenagers and young adults. In fact, for everyone.
Bird book box
If you’re like me, you may want to hoard as many books as possible. Making a backyard bird book unit for all your birding resources is a great way to justify every time you open your wallet. By stocking the book shelves with other visual stimuli like photos, pictures and collages made by you and the kids of all the birds you see, you can create the best go-to resource around.
Hearing birdsong at the push of a button is a fantastic way to familiarise the very young mind with the range of sounds outside
If possible, have your bird station right by a window where you can then view your bird feeders or outdoor space from, and spend some time together bird watching, see who comes by your own feeder.
Make sure the area is comfortable to allow for long periods of time, giving everyone ringside seats to the real-life flying wonders. It’s also a great idea to have binoculars on hand: there are models specially designed for children that aren’t too heavy or hard to use.
Stock the shelves or windowsill with note-taking or art materials to encourage the emerging illustrator, journalist, author or scientist learning about the creatures in front of them. Make sure you also spend time outside too, broadening your range to show how the birds do just the same, and how you can find different types in different habitats.
There once was a time that many feared the Internet would replace all books; there has been talk of traditional media such as newspapers and books going out of style since the mid-1990s when practically the whole world had embraced the technology.
Whilst it has certainly had an impact, books do live on, as does the natural world. Books help children develop basic language skills and profoundly expand their vocabularies, much more so than any other media, and books about nature and birds helps children develop powers of observation, creativity and respect for all living things, which the world will always need.