Guest post by Mark Baldwin, Director of Education at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute (www.rtpi.org). A review of For the Birds: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson written by Peggy Thomas and illustrated by Laura Jacques
Roger Tory Peterson fans have been fortunate recently to have not one but two excellent biographies, by Douglas Carlson and Elizabeth J. Rosenthal. But for years we’ve also wanted a picture book to teach and inspire new generations of children about the life of our hero.
Our wait is finally over. For the Birds: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson written by Peggy Thomas, illustrated by Laura Jacques, published by Boyds Mills Press, is the perfect way to introduce RTP to kids. And lucky us, just in time for holiday giving!
Peggy tells the story simply and clearly, salted with lively bird-related word play. We learn that as a youngster Roger sometimes didn’t fit in. Other kids made fun of him. He felt misunderstood by his father. But we’re not asked to pity Roger; he also had fun. The story unfolds with truth and sensitivity and in a way that children and adults will understand, especially those of us who are drawn to nature.
Jacques’ illustrations are phenomenal. She captures 11-year-old Roger’s shock at a startled Northern Flicker exploding into the air before his eyes, and a different kind of shock when at 17 he found himself receiving personal encouragement from his idol Louis Agassiz Fuertes. All with depth and graphic detail that makes you go back to look again and again.
There are extras. Inside the cover is a tongue-in-cheek Topography of a Birder, homage to Peterson’s standard field guide introduction to parts of a bird. Peterson’s actual notes and sketches are worked into the pages.
This book is a celebration of Roger’s life, how, largely by means of his own determination and pluck, he became one of the most positively influential people of the 20th century. It’s a great lesson for every kid who feels a little left out. Hang in there, work hard and you, too, can live your dream.
There’s also a great lesson for grown-ups: like that teacher Miss Hornbeck, we, too, can turn a young life around by sharing our own passion for life and learning about the world around us. Be ready; you never know when a young Roger Peterson might come your way.