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Birds Have Flown the Coop in USA!

Since 1968 my book, Have You Seen Birds? has been in print and available in the United States without interruption. That's a long time for any title to stay around. Originally published in the US by Young Scott Books, it was then reissued by Scholastic Canada with new art by Barbara Reid in 1986, when it won Canada Council Children’s Literature Prize (1986), the Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award (1987), and the Ruth Schwartz Award (1986), among many other honors.

Last week a reader's email told me the birds had flown the coop and new copies are only available in Canada. She had loved the book as a child and wanted to buy it for her own child. It seemed odd that the book was not available, since it was just refreshed with a new cover in 2017 by Scholastic Canada. However, since the book is published by the Canadian branch of Scholastic, I've been told that Amazon US doesn't carry the new edition. Too bad. You can only buy used copies in the US and they cost more than the new paperback edition, which also has a glossary in the back of the book, identifying the birds on every page. If you want a new copy of Have You Seen Birds? use this is the link.

Here's a lovely review of the new edition from the University of Manitoba:

Joanne Oppenheim’s Have You Seen Birds? is a classic that will continue to charm and engage young readers for years to come. Although it was originally published in 1968, Oppenheim partnered with illustrator Barbara Reid on this revised edition published in 1986. Over thirty years later, Oppenheim’s text and Reid’s plasticine illustrations are a pairing that is still invigorating and fun. Have You Seen Birds? was the winner of the Canada Council Children’s Literature Prize (1986), the Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award (1987), and the Ruth Schwartz Award (1986), among many other honors.

Have You Seen Birds? guides the reader on a rhythmic journey through a variety of different bird species, “[l]ong legged tall birds, tiny bug-sized small birds” (p. 4), always returning to the refrain “Have you seen birds?” This repetition provides a clear structure and can help young readers track their progress through the book rather than overwhelming them with the names of different bird species. Oppenheim clusters birds by their seasonal activity, habitats, and active times. Due to the challenging vocabulary Oppenheim uses, young readers will need the help of an older reader to read the text.

Oppenheim never names the birds, instead choosing to describe them by their characteristics. For example, the illustration of Canada geese is accompanied by the text “leaving-in-a-string birds, coming-back-in-spring birds” (p. 9). However, readers who may not be familiar with all of the species mentioned will find a useful key to the illustrated birds on the inside back cover. Young readers have the opportunity to match these descriptions of birds to the bird names. This key could support a fun guessing game for readers after they become familiar with the book and wish to explore the content in a different way. This book would also be a fantastic inspiration for art or science projects in the preschool, kindergarten, and the younger grades.

Barbara Reid’s choice of plasticine as the medium for her illustrations is apt for the visual content of this story: her layers of sculpted plasticine create depth and interest for readers. Although one might think of plasticine as a more solid, earthy medium than watercolour, Reid manipulates the malleable clay into dynamic and action-filled scenes. Her variation in composition and perspective makes readers excited to examine each one carefully. Her colour palette is rich, vibrant, and inspired by each bird’s environment. Her birds have life and unique personalities. On p.15, Reid’s plasticine owl zooms off the page and straight at the reader with its glowing yellow eyes.

If Have You Seen Birds? is not already in your library, it is definitely one to add!

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