Learning about ornithology can be tough going for children, especially when they begin to consider the study’s various aspects of classification, behavior, and habitat. Jacques van Heerden, in his chapter book, A Tale of Two Sparrows, makes the beginning steps easy for the fledgling birder, however.
The book is couched in the voice of Billy, a young sparrow who muses about everything from his courtship with his mate, to the best food to eat, to how he is related to other types of birds. Most of the narrative is prompted by events in Billy’s daily life, and as Billy learns from these events, so do readers. For instance, the reader discovers that “the cuckoo’s egg and young are much bigger than a sparrow’s,” and that “wagtails eat little insects.”
The monograph is graced with some lovely drawings by Yani Steyn and Jo Spoelstra, and the author adds to the book’s charm by writing little ditties for some of the sparrows’ songs. The author also embeds subtle humor, based on cultural mores and wordplay, within the narrative. Some of this drollery may pass way over the heads of his young readers, but then so do much of the double entendres in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The wit is there for those who can catch it.
While most of the chapters are lighthearted, some do dwell on the death and tragedy inevitably found in nature. These passages are handled delicately, however, and the author uses them to promote some select messages: that death makes way ”for new life in nature” and that it is not the duration of life “that makes it meaningful, but its quality.”
There are some typos and tense agreement issues within the narrative, and the author seems confused concerning the format for quotation marks. With a little editing however, this book would provide an excellent read for the juvenile audience.
Also available as an ebook.