Reviews /

Clever Crow

Authored by  Chris Butterworth
Illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill
Published by Walker Books Ltd

An original and beautifully illustrated nonfiction picture book full of fascinating facts about the crow family.

The title, Clever Crow, invites you in because even if you know that crows are intelligent birds, do you know why? Well, no need to worry if you don’t because this book tells you why and so much more. Starting with the endpapers, we are treated to illustrations in marbled paint, in all the beautiful colours of the eggs of the different species of crow, labelled and painted to scale. I had to go straight to the endpapers at the end of the book and was not disappointed to see that each member of the corvid family is in place of the egg and labelled too. I spent quite a bit of time flicking back and to and poring over these pages. It would be a lovely starting point to look closely at these with children, noticing similarities and differences of each of the birds; spotting what makes each one distinctive; pointing out any features that surprise; any species new to you. For instance, I had never heard of the rufous treepie and found myself looking this one up to find out more. I love a nonfiction picture book that informs you but at the same time is a springboard and inspires you to find out more.

All this and I’ve not even turned the first page! I also took a while on the title page too. It has a bird’s eye view (clever!) of a nest to remind us of what we might already know about these birds: that they like to collect objects. This nest has a button, a peg, a bottle top and a shiny piece of what looks like a broken chain from something, so more possible chats about where they came from. From the first double spread, we are reminded that wherever you are in the world you are never far away from a crow. As I sit here typing away at my review, I have the window open and I can hear one outside! I love seeing them daily in my garden, full of character, pootling about.

Chris Butterworth’s text offers fascinating facts and even though it is quite sparse on each page, we learn so much in each sentence. I loved finding out that crows like to play, such as ‘roly-poly down a snowy roof’. On each page there are two font sizes (which the author reminds us to notice at the end of the book), the smaller font providing extra information and building on what the larger font tells us. So, in this instance, it is that ‘play teaches crows what to do in new situations’. A simple but very effective technique that gives us different levels to engage with the text. We’re also given a small index at the back, where we can see the areas covered in the book, including cleverness (of course!), flying, remembering, sounds and more. There is also ‘Crow Notebook’ page which encourage the young reader to start their own crow diary and note down sightings and what kinds of behaviour they see, which is a lovely way to inspire young children to take action and find out more.

Olivia Lomenech Gill’s collage, mixed media illustrations are incredibly striking. Every crow she paints has such character, again offering lots of opportunities to stop, wonder and discuss what they may be thinking. The crow on top of the bin on the first double spread looks like they are weighing up the vista, working out exactly where they intend to go next for food or shelter. The beady eye of the crow using ‘its tough beak and strong feet to poke a twig down a crack and tease out tasty bugs’, show all the cleverness and determination needed to achieve this. And all the backdrop of collected collage materials used, such as newspaper, mirrors the forager that we know the crow to be.

This book reminded me of a book I recently read called, Jacko by Jeanne Willis, which is based on the true story of a jackdaw rescued by a young boy in the 1950s and shows us much of what we learn in this nonfiction book. A lovely story. Clever Crow is a book that would appeal to children from 5 years and above, who I am sure will be delighted to find out how crows can be a clever as us, with their observation and problem-solving skills. I am pretty sure that this will be a book that will fascinate many young readers and deserves a place in all Key Stage 1 classrooms.