Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
The Book of Curious Birds is a 24x29cm hard covered beautifully presented book by Tasmanian author and artist, Jennifer Cossins. Promoted as being a book for children who have an enquiring mind and a thirst for knowledge, there is much to admire in the illustrations and information provided that would interest the reader of any age.
Twenty-eight unusual birds from around the world have been chosen to be presented in this publication. Written and illustrated on glossy white paper, colour dominates on the pages. The left-hand side of the open book contains the name of the bird presented followed by a single statement to catch the imagination of the reader such as The ghost of the forest, The flying cow, The strutting rainbow and The pirate of the Pacific.
The information page then states the LOCATION, LIFESPAN, HEIGHT and CONSERVATION STATUS of the bird identified. Several paragraphs of information are presented in medium sized font with colour being used for emphasis. The colour chosen relates in some way to the image on the facing page. These colours may be that of the feet, beaks, neck decoration, eye colour and feathers or the natural environment in which the illustrated bird is likely to be found. The painting of the bird in its environment flows onto the text page linking them together.
The information provided for each bird focuses on the usual basic information plus why these birds in particular stood out for the artist. This may concern the unusual sounds they make, their strange behaviour, or their unique visual characteristics. Some birds like the greater sage-grouse make a popping or booming sound when trying to attract the female and always stands beside her when doing so because the sound is louder and more impressive from this position. The capuchin bird (the bald monk of the jungle) makes a deep call which sounds like a cross between a mooing cow and a distant chainsaw while the cassowary will hiss, whistle, clap its bill and make a deep rumbling boom that is so low that it can barely be heard by humans.
Many of the other birds shown have parts of their body which can change colour depending on the mood of the bird like the palm cockatoo, the drumming parrot, and the ocellated turkey who gets its name from the eye like tail feather markings. Young readers will no doubt enjoy knowing that shoebills often poo on their legs to cool them down and that the hoatzin from the swamps of South America have many nicknames like the stink bird, because of their stinky colour or snakebird because of its unusual featherless head. For me, my favourite was the secretary birds who were presented strutting in the landscape in their knee-length black tights and exaggerated eye makeup. Even the birds that do not display much colour are beautiful especially when the colour is variegated as in the greater prairie-chicken and the owls.
Other species seem to be included because of their oversized body parts – either long tails or wires like the Ribbon-tailed astrapia and the twelve-wired bird-of-paradise. The sword-billed hummingbird’s bill is so long that it cannot preen itself the usual way and has to use its feet.
This book contains beautiful, colourful and interesting information about some of the unusual birds that inhabit our planet. The passion which Jennifer Cossins has for nature shines through her work. She has written and illustrated many books, among which are The Mummy Animal Book, The Daddy Animal Book and an A-Z of Endangered Animals. These books would be a wonderful resource in any school and a pleasurable way for parents to share with their children some of the wonders of the bird world.
I found this book to be a thoroughly fascinating read and will return to it many times to admire and learn more.
Book of Curious Birds
written and illustrated by Jennifer Cossins
Lothian Children’s Books