Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate – Review by Shawna Coppola

Allow me to introduce you to my most current book love: Annette LeBlanc Cate’s spectacular gem (and Sibert Honor book) Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard.

look up

But first, a confession: I only picked this book up while volunteering in my daughters’ school library because their cousin, my niece Evan, already knows at eight years old that she wants to become an ornithologist. Since she and my youngest daughter Sydney often FaceTime together, I thought I could put my mad skills as a professional book recommender to good use and flash her the cover during their next video chat, thereby solidifying my role as Best Aunt Ever.

Before I could do so, however, I could not help but dive deep into this delightful, humorous nonfiction picture book and savor its incredible writing, design, and illustration. Even the end pages are a wonder to behold. This, from someone who previously could give two hoots about birds or bird-watching. (My interest in birds has always consisted primarily of the blue, Internet-dwelling kind.)

Now, however…well, let’s just say I’ve seen the error of my ways.

Cate’s enchanting way of weaving information about birds and the not-so-fine art of bird-watching, along with her witty asides and helpful hints for the novice bird-sketcher, are inspiring to behold. As a reader, I savored the wealth of text and illustration, which is laid out in such a way as to allow me to flit to and fro like a Chaetura pelagica from tidbit to fascinating tidbit–like the fact that a vulture’s small, naked head is perfect for the easy clean-up needed for a bird whose diet consists of putrid animal carcasses (gross!…but COOL!).

As a teacher, I am delighted by the fact that the book is a veritable gold mine of mentorship for both writers and illustrators alike. Students will not help but notice how Cate uses speech bubbles to establish voice and provide information, em dashes to explain or elaborate, charts to convey information in an engaging way, and color–or the absence of it– to highlight details, as she does when explaining the characteristic silhouettes of various bird types. One can’t not learn craft from this book even as they are engaging in all of its wisdom and wonder.

And perhaps most important of all, Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard has inspired me to leap off the couch, grab my notebook, and throw open my doors in an attempt to lure spring from its chilly recesses and train my eagle eyes on the feathered friends that will soon surround me. It will inspire you and your students to do the same.

Shawna Coppola watches birds in her NH backyard when she is not shooing away bears attempting to destroy her bird feeders. She also works as a literacy specialist in a K-6 school. You can find her nesting among the blue, Internet-dwelling birds at @shawnacoppola or occasionally posting on her blog, shawnacoppola.wordpress.com.