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The Picture Book Buzz

Finding a Dove for Gramps - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

My love for birds grew from watching my grandmother paint them and my mother hunt through field guides to identify them. Although my grandmother's gone, my mom and I still compare notes over the phone and try to help each other identify unusual birds.

Since I regularly participate in the Audubon's Christmas Bird Count, the Great Backyard Bird Count, and Cornell Lab's Project FeederWatch citizen science projects each year, I was excited to see another book published this year on the Christmas Bird Count. This time, a really fun fictional one.

Finding a Dove for Gramps

Author: Lisa Amstutz

Illustrator: Maria Luisa Di Gravio

Publisher: Albert Whitman & Co. (2018)

Ages: 5-7



Christmas Bird Count, winter, nature, citizen science, and family.


A boy and his mom continue the family tradition of participating in the annual bird count. Since Gramps went South for the winter, the boy hopes to spot Gramps's favorite bird for him—a dove! But with so many different birds in the nature preserve, will he be able to spot one? This heart-warming family story about nature celebrates a holiday census that was first started in 1900 and happens every year.

Opening Lines:

Mom and I slip silently out the door.

Today we're going to count birds.

It's just the two of us this year,

since Gramps flew south for the winter.

"Just like the swallows!" he said.

Gramps loves birds, and I do too.

Doves are his favorite.

This year, I want to find a dove for Gramps.

What I like about this book:

Like the undercurrents in a river, beneath this delightful story of a boy and his mother participating in an Audubon Christmas Bird Count flows many subtle themes. Besides the obvious enjoyment of time together, being outdoors, community, and citizen science, this story also touches on dealing with family members moving away, disappointment, and persistence.

We are swept along as the boy, armed with a clipboard, field guide, and binoculars, participates with his mother in the bird count. Missing his grandpa, who flew south with the birds, the boy enjoys continuing their tradition of spotting and recording numerous birds but holds out the hope that he'll spot his grandfather's favorite bird - the dove - and make Gramps feel a little bit closer.

Text © Lisa J. Amstutz, 2018. Image © Maria Luisa Di Gravio, 2018.

The boy's longing, frustration, and pain of grandpa's absence is palapable. "No doves this year, I guess. I miss Gramps more than ever." Yet his patience and persistence help create a satisfying ending.

Text © Lisa J. Amstutz, 2018. Image © Maria Luisa Di Gravio, 2018.

Lisa subtly helps readers new to birding and/or a bird count learn how to identify birds by using traditional identifiers for birds, such as their colors, calls, size, location, or actions. There is a lot of STEM packed into this beautiful fiction story. With back matter on the bird count and an included "Bird Count Checklist," readers are encouraged to join in the fun themselves.

Text © Lisa J. Amstutz, 2018. Image © Maria Luisa Di Gravio, 2018.

Additionally, the lyrical text, filled with sounds, and Maria Luisa Di Gravio's touching and sweet illustrations, beautifully and realistically portray a chilly, bird-filled, winter day in the Northeast. This is a great book for parents or teachers wanting to introduce birds, migration, habitat, or citizen science, as well as coping with a loved one (or friend's) move.


- read about Frank Chapman and his creation of the Christmas Bird Count in Counting Birds: The Idea That Helped Save Our Feathered Friends (Young Naturalist) by Heidi E.Y. Stemple (here);

- participate in one of the many citizen science projects, for birds or other animals, that exist throughout the world;

- draw a picture of your favorite bird. Where did you see it? What was it doing at the time?

- make a handprint dove (or maybe two and send one to family or friends who live far away)

- cover a pinecone in peanut butter and roll it in bird seed and sunflower seeds and hang in your yard as a Christmas present for the birds.

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.

If you missed it, check out Lisa Amstutz's interview this past Monday (here).

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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