The Boy Who Drew Birds:
A Story of John James Audubon
by Jacqueline Davies,
illustrated by Melissa Sweet
2004. HMH Books for Young Readers.
John James Audubon (1785-1851) was an American naturalist best known for his book, The Birds of America.
The text of this book briefly describes Audubon's childhood, but then quickly makes the leap to his arrival in the United States at the age of 18. While Audubon works to learn English and find a way to earn a living, he also begins exploring his questions surrounding where small birds go in winter and whether they return to the same nest. The majority of the book focuses on the banding experiment Audubon does to determine the answers to these questions.
About the Illustrations
The illustrations are pretty typical of Melissa Sweet's work, which usually incorporates different styles, media, and materials. The pictures in this book are a mix of specimens, scenes from Audubon's life, and portraits of other famous scientists, including Aristotle. Also included (obviously) are many pictures of birds.
There are four notes at the back of the book. The first is "About John James Audubon," which explains the significance of banding at the time of Audubon's original experiment. It also tells what happened immediately following the events covered by the main text of the book, and it is accompanied by a picture of an original watercolor by Audubon, depicting the pewee flycatcher. The "Author's Source Note" and "Illustrator's Source Note" talk about the research behind the creators' contributions to the book, and finally, the bibliography provides resources for further reading.
This book does a nice job of providing proper context for its subject matter, and it strikes a nice balance between telling Audubon's entire life story and highlighting his main contributions to his field. A young reader would not have a complete understanding of everything Audubon has ever done from reading this book, but he or she would certainly have a strong foundation of information about him, and a platform from which to pursue further studies on ornithology. I also thought the author chose really memorable details to engage the reader. For example, I was really surprised to learn that prior to Audubon's experiments, some scientists believed that birds flew to the moon for the winter, and that it took them 60 days to get there!