Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me

I always heard that magpies are attracted to bright and shiny things, so I likened myself to them because I have always picked up baubles myself. I still recall one day on my way to elementary school, filling my pocket with tiny cubes of windshield glass that looked for all the world to me like diamonds. Even now, I collect knickknacks kids leave in the library – marbles, dress-up rings, etc. But apparently it’s the bowerbird who likes eye-catching bits and pieces. I’m glad to stand corrected. Roth is a children’s book illustrator whose preferred medium is collages, and this comparison of her art with that of the bowerbird is one fun feast for the eyes. Male bowerbirds create elaborate grottoes to attract mates. These beautiful structures are not intended to serve as nests; they are simply built to catch a girl’s eye. The bowerbirds are selective with materials and the design, sometimes only picking objects of a particular color and rearranging the items – some natural, some manmade – to their satisfaction. Roth describes her artistic process similarly: selecting items that appeal to her, culling others, and moving the keepers around until she is pleased with the composition. The text is spare, letting the rich patterns and colors and textures of Roth’s collages do the talking – well, joyful shouting, really. The pages are very much like an I Spy book in that kids will enjoy poring over them to see all that Roth has utilized. Roth’s message of parallels between animals and us is lovely and so important. She shows herself rendered in collage form working on one page while a collage bowerbird works on the other. The back matter delves more deeply into the connection Roth shares with bowerbirds, with two substantial lists of facts about bowerbirds and how they work, followed by a list of the steps Roth takes in her work, and a final list showing how Roth and bowerbirds are the same. Possible activities include students writing a comparison piece about their resemblance to a particular animal, citing facts they have researched. And an art project is a no-brainer. Encourage students to hunt for a hodge podge of everyday materials to turn into a collage. Make it a shared effort by dumping the materials onto one table and having the students choose from the things each other has brought. They’re likely to be delighted by an object they wouldn’t have thought to use. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to pilfer our lost and found drawer…

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