What is it about animals that captivate us? Maybe it’s their complete abandon. They pay close attention to whatever they are doing, especially when they’re eating, which is why we always want to be present at feeding time at the zoo or aquarium. First of all, they come from everywhere to get the food, but secondly they’re completely absorbed in what they’re doing. As we observe them, we feel like spies because—unless we interfere in some way, with a sound or a sudden movement—they seem completely unaware of us.
In Busy Birdies by John Schindel, the photographs place us in close proximity to the parrots, ducks, herons and peacocks Steven Holt captured on his camera. How often would we get near enough to a hummingbird to watch it extract nectar from a flower (“Birdy sipping”)? When young children have this opportunity to observe an animal up close, they seize it. And birds are the perfect place to start because they are so abundant—even in the city you can find sparrows, pigeons, even the occasional red-tailed hawk!
A book like this can be a way into encouraging a child’s naturally curious nature. Using that photo of a goose with its wings spread and its companion with wings retracting, you can start a conversation with a child about how geese fly, and then observe birds in flight to see what it looks like in action. Children begin to ask questions—what kind of bird is that? Why does the hummingbird sip from flowers? And that leads the way to searching out more books about birds, and maybe a hike with binoculars in tow.
I remember a friend who lives in Baltimore laughing as she told me that she’d taken her children to the zoo in Washington DC and all her kids wanted to do was follow the pigeons. Birds are so much a part of a child’s everyday experience that they naturally gravitate toward them (plus birds are smaller than they are). It’s a great place to start, and then let their curiosity lead as far as it will take them.