Reviews /

A Wild Child’s Book of Birds

Authored by Dara McAnulty
Illustrated by Barry Falls
Published by Pan Macmillan

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The first thing to strike me about A Wild Child’s Book of Birds is the ambiguity of the title. Yes, there is the wild of the child who is at home in the natural environment, but there is also perhaps an implication of the wild both of non-conformity and a willingness to step away from expected behaviours. And indeed, this book steps away from the organisation of more conventional wildlife guides. And that ambiguity is continued as you look at the book’s cover. The letter ‘i’ of birds in the cover title is in the form of a silhouetted child reaching up over their head, holding onto a bird which has outstretched wings. As the reader we are left to ponder whether this is an image of the child releasing a bird from captivity, or one in which a bird is being captured, or even a silhouette of a child holding on as a bird is about to lift them into the air.

A Wild Child’s Book of Birds is organised around the seasons, and each section draws attention to those aspects of the world of birds that are most relevant or observable in that season. Significant language in the text is highlighted through the use of capitalisation, this includes the names of bird species and some of the challenging vocabulary (much of which is linked to a list of birds and a glossary at the rear of the book). Recognising that many children reading this book may not have garden sanctuaries for bird life, McAnulty has included a section on birds in urban areas as well as advice on how to encourage birds into spaces how where they can be observed. The book also has plenty of technical detail that can be read in abstraction on how birds achieve flight, the structure and types of feathers, etc.

In her author profile, Dara McAnulty says that he isn’t an expert, but an enthusiastic lover of birds. This love comes across in the text, which (apart from the developed use of language) one could imagine coming from a child who starts their conversation, ‘Did you know…?’ The mantle of enthusiast also allows him to use evaluative language that might be out of place in more traditional encyclopaedias of birds: ‘another fascinating bird family’, ‘our most spectacular birds’, and ‘a stunningly majestic bird’. McAnulty has included a discussion of birds in literature, and he is not afraid to lean into poetic language herself. Each seasonal section of the book opens with an evocation of that season’s bird life, with text sitting on a boldly colourful and minimal double page spread, which places the child alongside bird life in the seasonal landscape.

Barry Falls’ artwork in A Wild Child’s Book of Birds demonstrates a breadth of technique from the use of colour washes, line drawings, and stippled textures, and in his mixture of colour wash and precise drawing he demonstrates a beautiful lightness of touch, which brings the birds to life as each species is identified, making comparisons between them easy.
I would recommend this book to any Key stage 2 child who is interested in natural history, or simply wants to know more about the world around them. It would sit equally well in a class book collection or school library.