[Nonfiction Wednesday] Remarkable Men who found Beauty and Redemption in Birds: John James Audubon, Louis Fuertes and Noor Nobi

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Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2016 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year.

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These picturebook biographies are technically not fantastical in nature. However, these remarkable men did perceive the world, birds in particular, quite differently. What is fantasy after all but seeing the familiar with strange eyes?


5The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon

Written by: Jacqueline Davies Illustrated by: Melissa Sweet
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004 ISBN: 0618243437 (ISBN13: 9780618243433) Literary Awards: NSTA’s Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12: (2005), Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award for Children’s Literature (2005)
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

What I love most about picturebook biographies is when I discern the intersections between my field of expertise gifted and talented education and children’s literature. In this particular title, the cognitive traits of the brilliant mind are clearly evident.

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The Boy Who Drew Birds speaks of the life of John James Audobon who preferred knowing about birds not just through books, but studying them in nature. As a young boy growing up in 1804, he was asking questions like where did the birds spend the winter? And when they did return did they really fly back to the very same nests?

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This avid curiosity is matched by Melissa Sweet’s painstaking attention to detail and unparalleled collage art as you can see in the image above, as well as Davies’ engaging text. While I appreciate the fleeting swirling beauty of birds, Audubon’s singular-mindedness when it comes to studying birds was of such an extent that he also wanted to “find a way to tell the whole world” – and that he did.

For teachers who wish to make use of this picturebook biography in the classroom, here is a comprehensive Teachers Guide created by the publisher that includes curriculum links to history and social science, art, and social competency just to cite several.

The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artistfullsizerender-4

Written by: Margarita Engle Illustrated by: Aliona Bereghici
Published by: Two Lions, 2015 ISBN: 1477826335 (ISBN13: 9781477826331)
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

Inspired by Audubon’s huge tome of a book of bird art, Louis Fuertes (whose father originally wanted him to become an engineer) eventually became known as  the Father of Modern Bird Art.

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Unlike other picturebook biographies, Margarita has extended the idea further by creating short poems on each full-spread page (or two at the most), as the reader is invited to see the world through Louis Fuerte’s eyes.

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I believe that Margarita’s initial training as a botanist and agronomist also added a textured, naturalistic nuance to the poetry that imbues Fuertes’ life with so much wonderment and beauty. I also enjoyed the overall layout of the text that makes it appear as if the colours and the wildlife sing and give birth to Margarita’s poems.

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For teachers who wish to make use of this book in the classroom, here is a downloadable PDF resource that serves as a printable activity kit that teachers can easily print and use. Definitely a book that you should add to your classroom library.

fullsizerender-3The Birdman

Written by: Veronika Martenova Charles Illustrated by: Annouchka Gravel Galouchko and Stéphan Daigle
Published by: Tundra Books, 2006 ISBN: 0887767400 (ISBN13: 9780887767401) Literary Awards: Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award for Children’s Literature (2007)
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

Unlike the two bird artists mentioned above who generally come from a privileged background, Noor Nobi comes from a different world and reality. He is a tailor in Calcutta – just like his father and his grandfather before him. He enjoyed leaving scraps now and then for the birds to weave into their nests.

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Life was simple and quiet for him and his family until one dark day when a fatal accident took his wife and three children away from him.

For many weeks after that, the sewing machine stood silent. Even the birds stayed away. Noor Nobi was overwhelmed with grief.

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He sat alone, staring at the walls, unable even to cry. Just as the rain refused to relieve the parched earth, no tears would come to wash away Noor Nobi’s despair.

The one thing that made Noor rise above his pain was the sight of birds trapped in cages that made him realize just how fragile life is. He immediately bought a caged bird – and under a big banyan tree, he released the bird into the skies.

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Every week after that, he spends a portion of his earnings to buy even more caged birds – only to release them into the wild, while tending to the small sickly ones in need of care. It was under that big banyan tree that the Birdman released not just his pain but these winged creatures’ as well into the skies.

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What I found to be even more moving in this story is how the author shared her own journey to Calcutta to meet Noor, the Birdman. It was a Toronto Star Article that featured Noor Nobi that set her into this path. According to her:

Perhaps it was because I have a fascination with bird imagery. Perhaps it was because the man was a tailor, and I had spent many childhood hours playing games with buttons and fabric scraps beside my mother’s sewing machine. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t get the article out of my mind.

This is indeed a haunting story that would remain in one’s mind long after you have read it: a remarkable story of redemption and letting go.

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