ON BIRD HILL – Kirkus Starred Review

ON BIRD HILL – Kirkus Starred Review

On Bird Hill

A young dog-walker recalls the memorable experience of watching a chick hatch.

To inaugurate a new series created for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Yolen, who has often celebrated the natural world, provides a graceful poem reminiscent of the cumulative song “The Green Grass Grew All Around.”

Illustrator Marstall sets this in a fantastical landscape with Seussian trees and surprising, pleasing tiny details, including humans, animals, oversized insects, and, far away, sailboats on an ocean. The dog-walker sets out just before sunrise; a waning crescent moon still shines when they reach Bird Hill. The tree is on the summit; a cutaway image on the bottom of the page showing the walkers’ path reveals its roots.

Slowly, they close in on the tree, the limb, the twig, the nest, and the “bird at rest.” A striking spread shows a cloud of feathers and the barely visible chick, still in the egg. A later, wordless close-up of the emerging chick invites young readers and listeners to stop and wonder.

There’s humor, too, when the hatchling fluffs his wings and stretches his legs. Then the point of view changes, moving from the observer to the chick, who looks around to see “the moon… / …and me.” Carefully crafted rhyming couplets beg to be read aloud again and again.

An imaginative and original depiction of one of life’s everyday miracles. (Picture book. 2-6)

First in a planned series (a portion of proceeds will benefit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology), this dreamy story follows a child and his dog on a stroll by the sea. Writing in characteristically well- structured verse, Yolen (the How Do Dinosaurs… series) echoes the story line of the nursery rhyme “The Green Grass Grew All Around,” starting broadly

“As I was walking on Bird Hill,/ Though it was day, the moon shone still”) then narrowing in on a tree, twig, bird, and nest. Inside, the boy sees “an egg,/ A little chick, all beak, wing, leg.”

Marstall (Butternut Hollow Pond) brings a slight Seussian weirdness to the setting—the narrowest of paths swoops around chartreuse hills, while impossibly skinny trees taper into branches capped by yellow, tendril-like flowers.

When the chick hatches, the inside of its shell is a world unto itself, a nighttime scene featuring a house that looks like the one the boy calls home. It’s a sweetly surreal meditation on the everyday wonders that await in the wild. Ages 3–5.


Author’s agent: Elizabeth Harding, Curtis Brown. Illustrator’s agent: Abigail Samoun, Red Fox Literary. (May)

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