Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Rockin! Robins! How They Grow Up by Eileen Christelow

We're robins!

Our black and white speckles mean we're young--a few months old.

Robin teenagers! Why are we living in your yard? Well, here's the story.

"First, Let's tell about Dad's long trip."

Just like most humans, when the family is moving house, Dad goes ahead to find just the right place to call their own.

"He looked for safe places to hide from predators... and good wormy soil."

But when it comes to building the house, Mom is sure to arrive for a say in the construction. No, they can't build in a still-leafless tree with no privacy from predators! And Mom takes charge of the nest, a cradle for her babies. She gets down and dirty, adding mud for structural security, and lining it with soft, fluffy grasses or moss to make it warm and comfy. Only then does she settle down to lay her eggs, and she comes prepared with a plucked place on her belly to transfer her own warmth to her developing little ones. A mom's got to do what a mom's got to do!

"That's her brood patch!"

It's a tough world out there for eggs. A squirrel takes one, and the brood is down to three. And as soon as Mom helps the chicks hack out of their eggs with their temporary egg teeth, they start to clamber to be fed--on yumsome regurgitated worm!

Mom and Dad tag team each other, trying to protect the chicks from predators and yet keep themselves and the babies fed. The parents also have to do the robins' version of diaper changes--carrying away little white poop sacks to keep the nest clean. The babies grow very fast and add warm fluff and then true feathers as fast as they can to keep them warm and dry and ready to fly. In only two weeks the three are already perching on the edge of the nest, flapping their wings. Soon one takes the great leap...

He's flying!
                    Down, down, down.

Thwump!"Where is everyone?"

Mom chup, chups, and flies down to lead him to a safe bush... just as a cat leaps from a patch of flowers. Dad calls out his CHIP, CHIP warning and divebombs the ginger tom and chases him away for the moment. And soon all three chicks are genuine fledglings, out of the nest, but still dependent on their parents for their three squares a day. Teaching the youngsters how to rustle up their own grub(s) falls mostly to Dad, since Mom is already building a new home for the next nestlings.

Hard-working Dad does his best as a single parent, responding to the frantic cheeps of his three fledglings still working on real flight and watching for predators. Despite Dad's best efforts one of the three falls prey to a hawk. Now the brood is down to two, who must master strong, controlled flights and supporting themselves on bugs and worms, learning to follow the grownups who chow down on late summer berries and fruit, and hanging out mostly with the other adolescent robins who, like human teens, love to chat.

"Hey! You're losing your speckled feathers!"

"We're molting!"

And with fresh, mature feathers, the young adult robins are finally off with the flock for the winter, in Eileen Christelow's forthcoming and captivating nonfiction nature book, Robins!: How They Grow Up (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Clarion, 2017), delightfully digitally illustrated in the piquant style that graces so many of her famous picture books.

Christelow alternates full-bleed left-side page illustrations with cartoon frames on right-hand pages which graphically show an event in action in the lives of her robins, with avian adventures shown in active frame-by-frame style. There is much robin lore included in Christelow's skillful narration, enlivened by the humor in her speech bubbles, featuring the remarks of her cheeky 'tweener robins and filled with their living-dangerous adventures on each spread.

Somewhere in almost every primary grade curriculum sequence comes a unit on backyard birds, and Christelow's newest carefully crafted book introduces bird lore to youngsters, coming as it does at just the right time of year for classroom use. For savvy third graders there is plenty of information in the glossary, bibliography, and appended section, "More About Robins!" to qualify for a dandy non-fiction science book report, and for the independent reader this one is a pleasurable entree into nature science in an accessible, kid-friendly format. Christelow's fresh entry is as welcome as the first robin in spring!

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