All the Birds in the World by David Opie
Every morning, I walk my dog on a path along the Norwalk River, which takes me past a mound of algae-covered mud that I call “Bird Island.” The island is affected by the tide that flows up from the sound, so sometimes Bird Island is just a strip of mud, sometimes it’s the size of a life raft, and, at high tide, it slips completely below the water’s surface. Whenever the tide recedes enough to expose the little island, however, it’s populated with birds. I check it every morning, and there’s always some combination of mallard ducks, seagulls, Canada geese, cormorants, and maybe even an egret or a great blue heron, clinging to that mound of silt as the river courses around them.
Birds have fascinated me since I was a little kid, and I wanted to make a picture book about them. The image of different types of birds congregating on Bird Island got me thinking about creating a non-fiction book about birds that also addressed diversity and inclusion, because I think these issues are especially relevant in our current political and social climate. Utilizing birds as the subject of my book, I could showcase the theme of diversity—not with people, but with feathers.
One morning, as my dog and I strolled past that bird-covered island, a phrase popped into my head: “Birds of many colors have feathers like all the others.” When I got home, I cut out a small paper rectangle, drew a bird on it, wrote the words “Birds of Many Colors” next to the drawing, and pinned it to my bulletin board. I let the idea simmer for a while.
The shape of the book, summed up in that one phrase that popped into my head, started to form. After a couple weeks, I made an outline. I thought I’d cover one major avian theme per spread. That was easy: colors, shapes, nesting, long legs for wading, eggs, feet, beaks, flight, songs and calls. There were plenty of topics to cover, but I didn’t want the book to feel like a textbook.
I thought of having a kiwi, that furry-looking, long-beaked, flightless bird from New Zealand, to lead the reader through the book. I liked the idea of having a character that doesn’t really feel like they fit neatly into the different categories of bird-dom. Kiwi has an emotional arc in the book, starting with a feeling of not fully belonging, but then understanding that even kiwis have commonly shared bird traits and that, although different, kiwis do, in fact, have a place in the wonderfully-varied, colorful, “feathered family.” The working title of the book changed to “All the Birds in the World” in the editing process, but the sentiment remained.
The NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute states that all humans are “99.9 percent identical in their genetic makeup.” In other words, humans have caused an awful lot of strife and divisiveness by focusing on that tiny sliver of a single percent difference in our DNA, instead of focusing on the overwhelming similarities that all of us humans share. I was hoping that, in my book All the Birds in the World, I could have a little stumpy brown bird show us that we are far more alike than we are different. And maybe the reader will learn about the fascinating world of birds in the process.
David Opie holds a BFA in illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design, and earned an MFA in illustration from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He has illustrated Dozer’s Run: A True Story of a Dog and His Race and There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth. All the Birds in the World is his author/illustrator debut, which has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Shelf Awareness. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and their dog. His website is http://www.spacemandave.com.