Monday, April 30, 2012

About Hummingbirds

As a child, I loved to pore over the pages of illustrated guides to just about anything: trees, flowers, clouds, the more detailed the better. Truth be told, though, I usually ran out of steam for the exploration about half-way through, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of variety that existed in the natural world.

Maybe this is why, even at this late stage in my existence, I'm so delighted with the "About" series by Cathryn and John Sill - one recent installment of which, About Hummingbirds (Peachtree, 2011), is a finalist for Bank Street's Cook Prize. Its illustrations are intricate and accurate in the best field guide tradition, showing all sorts of hummingbirds in all sorts of environments. And there's just the right number of them - 18 plates, highlighting 26 species in all, doing things like building nests and escaping from predators. The accompanying text is similarly selective, keeping what could have been an overload of facts to an easily-digestable minimum. Possibly my favorite feature (but I concede that this might be the adult in me speaking) is the afterword that gives expanded detail about what is shown in each plate, and the scientific marvels – did you know that hummingbirds beat their wings 80 times per second? – that make hummingbirds such exceptional creatures.

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