Mark Baldwin (director of Education at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute): Roger Tory Peterson fans have been fortunate recently to have not one but two excellent biographies, by Douglas Carlson and Elizabeth J. Rosenthal. But for years we've also wanted a picture book to teach and inspire new generations of children about the life of our hero.
Our wait is finally over. For the Birds: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson written by Peggy Thomas, illustrated by Laura Jacques, published by Boyds Mills Press, is the perfect way to introduce RTP to kids. And lucky us, just in time for holiday giving!
Peggy tells the story simply and clearly, salted with lively bird-related word play. We learn that as a youngster Roger sometimes didn't fit in. Other kids made fun of him. He felt misunderstood by his father. But we're not asked to pity Roger; he also had fun. The story unfolds with truth and sensitivity and in a way that children and adults will understand, especially those of us who are drawn to nature.
Jacques' illustrations are phenomenal. She captures 11-year-old Roger's shock at a startled Northern Flicker exploding into the air before his eyes, and a different kind of shock when at 17 he found himself receiving personal encouragement from his idol Louis Agassiz Fuertes. All with depth and graphic detail that makes you go back to look again and again.
There are extras. Inside the cover is a tongue-in-cheek Topography of a Birder, homage to Peterson's standard field guide introduction to parts of a bird. Peterson's actual notes and sketches are worked into the pages.
This book is a celebration of Roger's life, how, largely by means of his own determination and pluck, he became one of the most positively influential people of the 20th century. It's a great lesson for every kid who feels a little left out. Hang in there, work hard and you, too, can live your dream.
There's also a great lesson for grown-ups: like that teacher Miss Hornbeck, we, too, can turn a young life around by sharing our own passion for life and learning about the world around us. Be ready; you never know when a young Roger Peterson might come your way.
KIRKUS: Intrigued from childhood by the wildlife around him, Roger Tory Peterson grew up to publish, in 1934, the first pocket-sized bird guide, a book that drew people's attention to the natural world and grew into a series that eventually encompassed plants and animals all over the world.
From cover to cover, this picture-book biography is filled with birds, just as the world must have seemed to the young naturalist as a child. Using language and imagery relevant to her topic, Thomas (Farmer George Plants a Nation, 2008) provides a lively chronological narrative. Regrettably obscured by the cover in places, the endpapers include a field-guide entry for this birder, including his habitat, identifying markings, voice and range. Jacques’ hyper-realistic mixed-media paintings have sharp edges and blended shadows, giving the appearance of acrylics and collage digitally combined. Most fill a page, full bleed, opposite a page of text that has a bird, butterfly or airplane silhouette (Peterson wrote military handbooks during World War II) as well as spot art in black and white. One memorable page turn shows the boy about to touch a sleeping flicker and then, across a wordless spread, the startled flicker flying away, glowing yellow under its wings. An afterword describes “The Peterson Effect”—the increase in care for our environment.
An excellent addition to the “sense of wonder” shelf. (bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 7-10)
For the Birds: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson
Peggy Thomas, illus. by Laura Jacques. Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek, $16.95 (48p) ISBN 978-1-59078-764-9
A boyhood love of birds turned into a lifelong passion for Peterson (1908–1996), an American artist, author, and activist. Birds are clearly a passion for illustrator Jacques, too; her dramatically lit, hyperreal full-bleed paintings often put various species of birds front and center, making it crystal clear why Peterson found them so captivating. Thomas provides a thorough account of Peterson’s life (and additional information in back matter), taking readers through his childhood explorations in the woods near his home in Jamestown, N.Y., to his successes as a painter and author and his later efforts to protect the habitats of birds around the globe. Ages 8–up. (Nov.)
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
FEBRUARY 1, 2012
THOMAS, Peggy. For the Birds: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson. illus. by Laura Jacques. unpaged. bibliog. Web sites. Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek. 2011. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-1-59078-764-9. LC 2011920696.
Gr 3-5–Lifetime bird enthusiast and eventual author of numerous field guides, Peterson makes an impressive subject in this picture-book biography. Thomas starts with her subject’s youth (he loved the outdoors and preferred the company of animals to other children) and follows chronologically to his death at 87 in 1996. The text is clear and lively. As a boy he went to his town’s city hall to explain that he could not possibly be home by the 8:45 curfew because he was studying moths. The chief of police signed a permit allowing him to be out until 11. Full-page, gorgeous, and uncaptioned illustrations draw readers’ eyes away from the text. One painting shows young Peterson about to poke a seemingly clueless bird. Turn the page, and the yellow winged flicker bursts across the spread, flying off to safety. One scene shows him in Brooklyn, NY, observing a raptor carrying a hapless, tiny rodent in its talon. Small, black on white silhouettes adapted from Peterson’s guides are also shown. Further biographical information, touching on such things as his three marriages, is appended, along with a note on The Peterson Effect, which helped people better appreciate the plight of birds and other animals. Thomas’s prose and Jacques’s art work in tandem to rescue Peterson from obscurity for this age range.–Anne Chapman Callaghan, Racine Public Library, WI