Published May 25, 2012, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.
2014 Update: All three books are widely available.
By Barb Gorges
What the Robin Knows, by Jon Young, c. 2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, hardcover, 241 pages, $22.
Includes science and audio editing by Dan Gardoqui and corresponding audio clips at www.hmh.com/whattherobinknows.
The subtitle of this book is “How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World.”
Author Jon Young takes what native trackers, other human mentors, and birds have taught him and passes it on to others through workshops and his website, www.BirdLanguage.com. Now he’s reaching a wider audience with this book.
There’s a slight New Age ring to it—after all, he’s moved from his boyhood home in New Jersey where he roamed the woods, to life in California.
In a way, this is also a self-help book. Young contends if you learn to pay attention in nature, specifically, distinguishing different bird calls and songs to understand “what the robin knows” about what is going on around you outdoors, it will make a difference to you, spiritually.
But even if you only want to learn to puzzle out wildlife secrets, you’ll find reading Young’s advice is time well spent.
Life Everlasting, The Animal Way of Death, Bernd Heinrich, c. 2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 256 pages, $25.
We all know about the food chain, but we don’t often want to think about how animals are recycled to become sustenance for future generations.
It is the request from a friend for a natural burial on author and scientist Bernd Heinrich’s land in Maine that causes him to examine the strategies of nature’s undertakers.
Heinrich’s in-depth look at how beetles, whales, ravens, vultures, salmon, among others, gracefully take part in the cycle of life contrasts sharply with what he shows us about human cultural practices that either use a huge amount of energy or poison extensive amounts of land with formaldehyde.
Heinrich is not only a scientist, but also a storyteller and a philosopher. If you enjoy this book, be sure to look up his others, including “Mind of the Raven” and “Why We Run.”
The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of North America, by Bill Thompson III, c. 2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 364 pages, softcover, $15.95.
As predictable as the spring migration of birds is the spring publication of a new bird field guide, especially one in the Peterson Field Guides series.
This one is for children old enough to read and is written by Bill Thompson III with help from his kids (whose mother, Julie Zickefoose, is one of the book’s illustrators) and Mrs. Huck’s fifth grade class.
If you buy this field guide for a child you know and hope to turn into a birdwatcher, even if you aren’t one, go ahead and read the introduction. You may find you want to buy a copy for yourself.
Only the book-wormiest kids will actually read the introductory chapter. The rest will go straight to the photos and the “Wow!” factoids—the surprising tidbits about each bird.
A generous 300 species of the 800 North American birds are included (200 of those can be expected in Cheyenne), but the volume’s dimensions still remain child-sized. My only quibble is with the range maps. You have to infer that during migration a species might be seen anywhere between the winter and summer ranges.
If this book sounds vaguely familiar, it is because Thompson and Zickefoose came out with “The Young Birder’s Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America” in the same format in 2008, which would be a better option for your grandchildren living east of the Mississippi, unless they are coming out to visit.