As darkness descends a bit earlier each evening, temperatures and leaves begin their slow but steady descent, and apples and pumpkins take pride of place in farm stands, I listen for the tell-tale honk honk honk and scan the sky for the familiar V of Canada Geese heading south. I know that many other birds and animals migrate, too. In today’s Perfect Picture Book, I enjoyed learning about one bird species that migrates across the Pacific, making the “longest unbroken journey of any animal in the world” – the bar-tailed godwits.
Written & Illustrated By: Jeannie Baker
Publisher/date: Candlewick Press, 2016 (US), also published by Walker Books UK, 2016
Suitable for Ages: 5-8 or older
Themes/Topics: Migration, Nature, Godwits, Non-Fiction
Opening: “In a place where mud and sand become sea…a godwit with white wing patches flies up with his flock. The moment is right for the long journey north.”
Brief Synopsis: This non-fiction picture book follows one godwit, a bird that migrates on a circular path across the Pacific between a southern home in Australia and New Zealand and a northern home in Alaska.
Links to Resources:
- Check out the Author’s Note and map showing the godwits’ migration route;
- There is a comprehensive teachers guide available through Walker Books that includes an interview with author/illustrator Jeannie Baker;
- For a coloring page, additional resources, references and quiz, see Walker Books’ classroom guide;
- Learn more about migration and why animals migrate.
Why I Like this Book:
The cover beckoned: azure sea merging to sky with green island below the line of shore birds and a one word title: Circle. My attention captured, I flipped through the pages of breathtaking artwork, including collage and watercolors, any one of the spreads worthy of a gallery or museum wall. I wondered about the title – circle of life? circular journey? Maybe both. Only after I savored the scene did I start reading.
While the subject ordinarily may not have captured my attention, an unknown (to me) shorebird that migrates from Australia/New Zealand up to Asia and then heads to Alaska to nest and repopulate, Ms. Baker’s story did. I now know and care much more about godwits and find myself thinking about other migrating animals and the obstacles they overcome in their travels. I think this is a story that will captivate children, too, and hopefully encourage them to learn more, and do more to support, migrating birds and animals across the world.
A Note about Craft:
I mentioned what lured me to pick up Circle in the first place, and what intrigued me enough to start reading. But there’s more. Ms. Baker drew me in by focusing on one godwit, the “godwit with white wing patches,” that she follows on the migration. He appears on the cover and the last spread and many, many places in between. I found myself searching for him in the pictures and caring about his fate. This personalization is a tool non-fiction writers can use to their advantage to build empathy for the cause or species featured. And by writing in clear but lyrical language, this book is a perfect read aloud and mentor text for those writing non-fiction picture books.
Ms. Baker adds a further element. Before the title page we meet a boy, stretched out on a bed, wheelchair by his side, surrounded by a globe, e-reader with text showing the meaning of godwit, a notebook, and a thought bubble, “Ahhhh- I wish I could fly!” Readers and listeners can search for this child who appears throughout the book, including the last wordless spread.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!