The Birders

Full disclosure: I have been a birdwatcher for decades. Without giving away how many decades, I’ll tell you I was 16 when I picked up a pair of binoculars and identified my first bird. Over the years, as an enthusiastic but casual birder, adulting limited my opportunities to get out birding. Just as I had achieved a certain level of mediocrity in the craft. Despite my mediocrity and my curtailed adventures, I am still enthralled, enamored and enchanted with birds and birding.

So, I was obviously drawn to The Birders, written and illustrated by Rob Albanese. I mean, the title alone—they are my people! 

The story’s characters: Mr. Flynn, and elderly gentleman who we discover right away is a lover of birds. The wall of his home that we see is covered with paintings of them. But I imagine, after reading this book, every room in Mr. Flynn’s house is filled with bird art, books, and birdwatching gear. He is, perhaps, a little bit grumpy.

The other character, Ollie, is an enthusiastic, curious, and creative kid, reveling in being sent outside to play. He is, perhaps, a little bit hyper. 

Ollie and Mr. Flynn live across the street from each other. And they both head outside on a winter day at the same time. Mr. Flynn because he has spied an uncommon species of bird, and Ollie because his mom finally gave him permission to go out and play. The two collide and tumble to the ground in their individual pursuits. So begins this satisfying story of intergenerational annoyance, sharing, discovery, and eventual friendship.

The common thread between the two is a big white owl that they have both seen. Mr. Flynn is an experienced birder and knows the rarity of sighting like this, and Ollie is wowed by the bird, too. The two of them, dependent (Mr. Flynn has the binoculars, Ollie knows where the bird flew) on each other, adventure into the forest to try and find the owl.

An unfortunate thing happens to Mr Flynn in pursuit of the owl and it is up to Ollie to come to the rescue. Kick in the creative Ollie! Though his thinking  and technique are questionable, he does manage to mostly salvage the day. 

In literature, there is a certain charm in how a bond is made between two unlikely, generationally-separated characters with little if any shared interests. This story is that. Other than an elusive and uncommon bird and a crazy afternoon, Ollie and Mr. Flynn bond. It is easy to see how they both have enriched the others’ lives. And it is charming.

Albanese’s illustrations are done, I’m guessing, digitally. The characters are nicely designed, easily likable. We understand who they are from just paging through and enjoying the art. As a bonus, there are a couple of peripheral characters—songbirds—that accompany the story on virtually every spread. They are a Cedar Waxwing and a Purple Martin (if I’m not mistaken.) Following them throughout the book is a hoot (pun intended.) The palette he used is on the cool side—greens and blues and browns—but it IS winter, after all. The book’s end pages are a treat; at the front of the book they are Mr. Flynn’s drawings and notes about birds he’s seen, and at the back are the same thing but by Ollie.

I truly enjoyed this book and have added it to my personal picture book collection, though I am shelving it with my field guides and other various bird books. 

And finally, I am inspired to dust off the binoculars and head out for a birding adventure myself. Ta ta!

~kevan atteberry

One Comment:

  1. “I’ll teach you everything I know.” Indeed, this is the best part of intergenerational activities. I still don’t know why old folks’ homes aren’t next to preschools–sounds like a win-win arrangement. I didn’t know you were a birder, Kevan. Another delightful children’s book that we’ve used as a field guide is BIRD TALK: Overheard by Ann Jonas.

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