A rhyming fly-by through an introduction to birds, Some Birds by Matt Spink is a delightful example of a picture book for the very youngest where illustrations, design, layout and text come together exceptionally well, creating a playful, eye-catching and uplifting read-aloud.
Strikingly outlined bird silhouettes are filled with with a riot of colours and bold patterns, as if looking through a kaleidoscope. Despite being very stylized, the birds embody energy and character; the pages are filled with movement and attitude, from birds swooping and squawking, to soaring and walking. The minimal text – ideal for reading to toddlers who will quickly learn it by heart – has a natural rhythm, drawing readers and listeners on, whilst the book’s smart design means almost every page turn has a dramatic reveal, often as a result of birds so bright and big they simply burst off the page.
When we first read this book I wanted to make stained glass windows based on Spink’s birds. Much as I love a challenge, this creative vision wasn’t something I could achieve at home. I’d like to say that the activity we did finally settle on was inspired by the fact that Matt Spink studied ceramics at university but I didn’t actually know that fact when we started ‘playing by the book’. Still, maybe something was in the air and we picked up on pottery prescience…
We started by tracing round the birds in Some Birds (using baking paper as we didn’t have any “proper” tracing paper).
We cut out our baking paper bird templates, and then used them with rolled out air-drying clay to create bird shapes. For each bird, we started by making some general divisions (by pressing a kebab skewer into the clay’s surface), and then within each division we created patterns by “printing” with buttons, cutlery and lego.
To create eyes like those the birds have in the book we used the top of a lipstick holder to get a nice sized circle, and then the pupil was made with a cocktail stick.
Once the clay had dried, we painted our birds with acrylic paints, painting the divisions and eye outlines with black to echo the illustrative style in Some Birds: Flapping Good Fun!
These gorgeous polychromatic birds now brighten up our kitchen!
Lucy Cousins’ latest book just fills me with joy. I’ve always been a fan of her slightly naive, almost brash style of painted illustrations, full of lines and patterns that look like they’ve been put down with focussed deliberacy, and a sense of really going for it. There’s no “hesitancy” in her style!
Her Hooray for Fish and Maisy’s Rainbow Dream cannot be separated in my head from all the emotions and memories from my first years of parenting, and just as then, her use of block colour bounded by brilliant black fills her pages with energy and oomph – something I fed upon as an exhausted, sleep-deprived parent, looking for boosts and bursts of va-va-voom wherever I could find them. I’m sure A Busy Day for Birds will do the same for new parents in 2017 and beyond.
Like Spink’s Some Birds, Cousins’ A Busy Day for Birds is a rhyming celebration of bird life, this time following the narrative arc of imagined daily routines. Imperative sentences (eg “Swoop up and down, swoop round and round” or “Catch a wriggly snake and stretch out your wings”) invite listeners to actively join in playing at being birds. Glorious, glorious, glorious!
Totally and utterly different and yet equally brilliant is the Illustrated Compendium of Birds by Virginie Aladjidi and Emmanuelle Tchoukriel (translated from French, but no translator is named). This is much more like a bird spotter’s guide, with typically a single bird per page, featuring a realistic drawing, plus identifying features (size, food, call and other points of interest), information on where the bird is found (the book gives examples of nearly 80 different bird species, and in showing their diversity, several birds are included which naturally occur outside the UK, such as ostriches, penguins and flamingo).
The detailed, fine drawings, made with Indian ink and watercolours are crisp and beautiful, reminiscent of scientific illustration in their clarity and hues. These, along with the gorgeous overall vintage design of the book, ensure that this Illustrated Compendium of Birds holds its own with any of the recent, lavishly illustrated non-fiction books that have become much sought after. This gem of a book may sadly go a little under people’s radar, as its publisher is generally known for its educational books rather than non-fiction books marketed for families, but now you know about it, do go seek it out!
Music which you might enjoy alongside any of these books includes:
Other activities which would go well with these books include: