Reviewed by Richard Tutin
Spending time in our backyards or going out into the parks and walkways have become the current pastimes for many people particularly with the Covid-19 restrictions that have come into force at various times over the past twelve to eighteen months.
Adults as well as children have taken up these pursuits and in so doing have begun to explore their own neighbourhoods as well as the adjoining areas surrounding their homes.
As we walk or ride, we see many things. A large array of plants species can be found that add to the beauty of the area. Within the foliage, or indeed out in the open, another type of species can be found, seen and heard. It is surprising how much bird life exists even in a small part of a suburb or town.
Invariably the question is asked, “What bird is that?” This has led many to possess at home a copy of Neville William Cayley’s book whose title is the same as the question and was first published in 1935. Its illustrations and descriptions have assisted many over the years to unravel the mystery of identifying the many and varied species of Australian birds.
As good as it is, Cayley’s tome was not written with the younger members of the family in mind. This is where Brisbane based illustrator Andy Geppert latest book comes to the rescue. Australian Backyard Birdies is smaller in size and concentrates on the birds most commonly found in our backyards and parks.
Geppert gets straight into the subject by dispensing with a foreword and introduction. Each of the birds described has two pages devoted to it. Few words are used because Geppert offers illustrations to describe the particular bird’s size, colours, feathers and home habitat. Geppert uses words in a clear, concise and humorous way. For example, when describing the Seagull, he also calls it a Beach Chicken.
Even so, the serious side of bird watching is not forgotten because Geppert also includes, within a vertical box on the page, the scientific name of most of the birds he describes. I say most because included in the selection of birds are such intriguing species as Swan (Giant Inflatable) and Flamingo (Ornamental). Both have been given scientific names of a sort such as “Pumpme-upabit pwease” for the Inflatable Swan and “Pinkus Plasticus” for the Ornamental Flamingo.
Each of the common birds included in Backyard Birdies is clearly described through words and illustrations. Geppert has also made his book interactive by encouraging the young birdwatcher to tick the box within the description of each bird when they have spotted one.
A glossary of terms is also included to round off the book. Like the descriptions of the birds, it literally highlights terms used in various sections describing them in a light and humorous way.
So, when the question is asked “What bird is that?” the young reader can be pointed in the direction of Backyard Birdies to help provide the answer even if the bird in question is a Giant Inflatable Swan or an Ornamental Flamingo.
Andy Geppert is an Australian illustrator based in Brisbane. He won the Crichton Award for new illustrators for his work on Little Big Tree in 2010. His follow up picture book, Meep, was selected as a Notable Book by the Children’s Bok Council of Australia (CBCA) in 2016.
By Andy Geppert
Lothian Children’s Books
ISBN – 978 0 7344 2069 5