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The Picture Book Buzz

Counting Birds: The Idea That Helped Save Our Feathered Friends (Young Naturalist) - Perfect Picture

Here it is, the review you've been waiting for all week. Heidi Stemple's amazing nonfiction story of how Frank Chapman turned his love of birds into the creation of the Audubon Magazine and a world-wide, citizen science event that resulted in counting 56,139,812 birds in 2016!

When I first saw this cover, I couldn't wait to read the book. Both because I love birds (and enjoy participating in a number of citizen science projects involving birds) and because I was immediately fascinated by Clover Robin's cut paper illustrations.

As a Girl Scout leader, my troop of Brownies & Juniors created a bird quilt for a retirement community. We chose our favorite birds and made felt collages of them on fabric squares, then combined these squares into a quilt. This was one of our favorite projects. I have enjoyed pouring over the illustrations and marveling at the minute details Clover captured in cut paper.

I hope schools and libraries invest in this book, both for their English/science classes as a nonfiction story of a little-known environmental hero and for their art classes as an amazing mentor for cut paper collage creations.

Counting Birds: The Idea That Helped Save Our Feathered Friends (Young Naturalist)

Author: Heidi Stemple

Illustrator: Clover Robin

Publisher: Seagrass Press (2018)

Ages: 3-7



Birds, Audubon Christmas Bird Count, citizen science, conservation, and paper collage.

Synopsis (from Amazon):

Everyday kids learn how they can help protect bird species, near and far, with Counting Birds—the real-life story of bird counting and watching.

What can you do to help endangered animals and make a positive change in our environment? Get counting! Counting Birds is a beautifully illustrated book that introduces kids to the idea of bird counts and bird watches. Along the way, they will learn about Frank Chapman, who used his bird knowledge and magazine Bird-Lore to found the first annual bird count. Bird counting helps professional researchers collect data, share expertise, and spread valuable information to help all kinds of birds around the world, from condors to hawks to kestrels and more. Counting Birds introduces kids to a whole feathered world that will fascinate and inspire them to get involved in conservation and become citizen scientists.

Opening Lines:

Frank Chapman loved birds.

He worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City creating exhibits about birds. He wrote books and magazine articles about birds. He studied birds' habits and habitats. He read the research of John James Audubon, the most famous ornithologist of all time.

Frank Chapman loved birds.

Why I LOVE this book:

It is immediately obvious that this book was a labor of love. As Heidi Stemple told me, "Counting Birds is the book of my heart. The one I think I was meant to write." All her experiences calling down owls during numerous counts, and her general love of birds and birding, shines through the entire book and especially the passage, "Everyone wins. The birds. The birders. Science."

Fred Chapman worked at a museum in New York City and wrote about birds in a magazine he created. He studied birds and adored them. So naturally, the Christmas tradition of competing to see who could shoot the greatest number of birds sickened him.

Text © Heidi E.Y. Stemple, 2018. Image © Clover Robin, 2018.

Fred decided to act. Through his bi-monthly magazine, Fred proposed a different hunt - a bird count.

Text © Heidi E.Y. Stemple, 2018. Image © Clover Robin, 2018.

In the first bird count Fred Chapman organized, 27 individuals across the country counted 18,500 birds.

Text © Heidi E.Y. Stemple, 2018. Image © Clover Robin, 2018.

What began as a desire to change a heart-breaking tradition and encourage the public's appreciation of birds and the environment, grew into an inclusive (all birds, all birders, and all countries are welcome) world-wide citizen science event that has contributed to the scientific knowledge of bird migrations, habitat, climate change, endangered species, and bird recoveries. Instead of competing for a head count of dead birds, the world now competes for the most birds spotted, the rarest bird observed, and a chance to break species and overall count records.

"And all this because Frank Chapman loved birds."

Text © Heidi E.Y. Stemple, 2018. Image © Clover Robin, 2018.

Clover Robin's cut paper illustrations are masterful. She creates detailed, textural images of Frank's study (complete with hardwood flooring, wood-grained cabinets, and rugs) and numerous, unique bird habitats. As well as intricate images of the birds themselves. I especially like her impressive picture of the California condor. Be sure to check out Heidi's interview of Clover for a peek into her process and technique. (

This book is both a celebration of this remarkable man and a reminder that we can't let the work that Frank Chapman, Roger Peterson, and other bird conservationists did get erased in one fell swoop because of greed. Hopefully, this beautiful book will encourage kids, classes, and adults to join in the fun of citizen science projects and help protect these precious co-residents of earth.


- make a cut paper (or fabric) collage of your favorite bird(s). [Use Clover Robin's new book "Cut Paper Pictures" ( as a guide];

- read You Nest Hear With Me and Fly with Me by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple. Then draw or write a story of your favorite bird and where they nest or some interesting fact about them;

- participate in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "Feeder Watch Bird Count" (From November to April, each year);

- participate in the Audubon's "Great Backyard Bird Count"; or


- visit the Cornel Lab of Ornithology website ( and learn more about your favorite birds.

To be entered in the giveaway, simply comment on this post or Heidi's interview (here). (Limited to the U.S.) One lucky winner will be chosen at random next Friday.

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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