A few years ago, I was walking home to my apartment in Brooklyn, NY, when suddenly I noticed everyone on the block was frozen. I froze too, and then I saw what had made everyone stop in their tracks—a red-tailed hawk, perched on a chainlink fence. It was absolutely majestic, and also so very strange to see on this busy city street. Later, I learned that it was not so strange and that New York City is full of avid birders who find plenty to discover right in our own neighborhoods. How to Bird by Rasha Hamid is a must for any school library in the city. I can’t wait for the copy I’ve ordered to arrive and I know it will fly off the shelf.
Today, Picture Book Builders welcomes Rasha Hamid! Read on to learn more about how this book came to be and how you can win your very own copy.
Sara: Welcome, Rasha! You share in the author’s note of How to Bird what you love about birding. When did you become interested in birding and what makes this a wonderful activity for children?
Rasha: It was actually my son, Jibreel, who got me interested in birding when he was in high school. After I spotted my first magnolia warbler in Central Park, I was hooked. I couldn’t believe that I’d been living just ten minutes away from some of the best birding in the country for decades, and never knew!
Children are fantastic birders. They’re so curious and most kids love being outside, when they are allowed to explore. Children and adults alike benefit so much from spending time in nature – especially those of us who live in urban areas. Birding takes us into quieter spaces, helping us to be present. Birding requires a kind of mindfulness that benefits our bodies and brains.
Neurodivergent children can be especially great birders. They might notice sounds, colors, and movement that others miss or they might be interested in memorizing categories of birding-related information. These kinds of talents aren’t always celebrated in classrooms, but they can make for wonderful birding. Birding is an activity every child can enjoy.
Sara: My favorite line of the book occurs on the opening spread. It’s simple and it’s powerful: “Anyone can bird.” Why did you decide to open the book this way?
Rasha: From the first spread, I wanted readers to know that this book was for them, and that no one has the right to make our public green spaces unwelcoming. There have been too many stories of harassment, discrimination, or inaccessibility when it comes to Black people and other members of the global majority, disabled people, women, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community in natural spaces – in public natural spaces. I also think sometimes people believe you have to have a fancy camera or binoculars to bird, or you have to go somewhere that’s hard to get to. I hope How to Bird challenges those beliefs and makes birding feel more accessible.
Sara: I love the focus on accessibility, not just in the text but also in the photo collages that illustrate the book. Can you share more about the process of creating this art?
Rasha: I drafted text and illustrations for How to Bird long before I found a publisher. I even designed a font that I call How2Bird! I loved my first draft, but I am not a professional graphic designer. I supplied the publisher with my photographs of birds, children, and New York City parks and streets. A designer named Courtenay sorted through all of my images and worked to recreate or redesign pages, based on my original draft and with feedback from myself and from my editor at Free Spirit, Alison Behnke. They were both very responsive to my vision for the text and illustrations.
Sara: What a wonderful collaboration! Rasha, is there anything else you would like to share about birding or this book?
Rasha: I especially love to see indigenous birds. It makes me feel connected to the people who walked this land before me. Central Park, my favorite birding spot, was built on Lenape land, and was also the site of Seneca Village, a Black community that thrived in the early to mid 1800s. During spring migration, native bird species flock to a tree some birders call the Magic Tree, as I imagine they have been doing for thousands of years. It’s a Tulip tree, and when it’s blooming, it attracts the most remarkable birds: scarlet tanagers, hummingbirds, cedar waxwings, orioles, indigo buntings, and more. It really is magical! I hope you’ll learn the history of the natural spaces and native species in your own neighborhood, and that you’ll get out there and bird!
Sara: Thank you, Rasha, for this inspiring interview!
Before I head out for a little nature exploration of my own, I am excited to share that Rasha Hamid is generously offering a copy of HOW TO BIRD to one lucky Picture Book Builders reader. Please comment below by November 30 to enter.