Knowing the Name of a Bird

h1 December 10th, 2020 by jules

Follow this girl’s binoculars (by hitting “Read the rest of this entry” below), and you’ll meet some beautiful birds in Jane Yolen’s Knowing the Name of a Bird (Creative Editions, August 2020), illustrated by Jori van der Linde.

It’s been a lousy year. We need to take in some beautiful birds, right?

Yolen’s text reads almost like a poem, spread across 32 pages, and all is about how we (as humans) have a limited capacity to truly understand the communication of birds — and how we often reduce birds by defining them with the names we use for them. “A bird’s name is not what it is,” the book opens, “but what we call it. Robin. Hawk. Peacock. Swan.” In subsequent spreads, we meet a whole host of birds, Yolen noting their unique qualities. The bluethroat’s name is “not the exact blue of its neck.” The gull’s name is not “the wings carving the air.” The red-tailed hawk is not its “dinosaur feet … or the talons with nails as hard as an old man’s.”

At the book’s close, we’re reminded that birds go by many names — scientific names (“Bubo Virginianus”); names given by birdwatchers (“Great Horned Owl”); names given by “the local hedgewitch” (“Old Hoot”); and names given by children in strollers (“Birdie!”). But, we are also reminded, birds won’t answer to the names we give them — “only its song.”

And even though, as a closing note from Yolen states, scientists are studying birdsong, it still fails to be a “true understanding of what the birds say to one another, what they express in their songs.” One day, she notes, maybe we can learn to speak their tongue.

Jori van der Linde, a Canadian artist, showcases these birds in all their glory via elegant, crisp, fine-lined illustrations. Birds sit in copious white space on uncluttered spreads. The earth-toned palette is warm and inviting. We see birds in flight, birds on the water, birds at their nest, and even a peacock. Spreads are not labelled with bird names (that would be beside the point, wouldn’t it?), but there is a list that opens the book of the birds readers will see.

How about letting some spreads do the talking. . . .


“It is not the exact blue of its neck …”
(Click spread to enlarge)


“It is not the dinosaur feet, crooked and brown,
or the talons with nails as hard as an old man’s.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


“Not the wings carving the air, the water.”
(Click spread to enlarge)


“All it can tell you is what the scientists around the world call it,

(Click spread to enlarge)


“… or the child in its pram pointing a small finger at the sky.

(Click spread to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

KNOWING THE NAME OF A BIRD. Text copyright © 2020 by Jane Yolen. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Jori van der Linde and reproduced by permission of the publisher, Creative Editions, Mankato, MN.

2 comments to “Knowing the Name of a Bird

  1. This looks gorgeous. And the text, as you’ve described it, is so needed –to restore a respectful relationship to what is a mystery and a wonder.

  2. I am just LOVING all of the bird and birding books I see popping up. We’re so many of us paying more attention to the natural world, and I LOVE the encouragement books like this give – and the illustrations are ADORABLE.

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