Toddler-Approved Bird Books
Must birds be the main characters?
(Listen to the radio version here.)
Now that I have a 3-year-old grandson, I’m reading a lot of children’s books again. Well, reading a few children’s books over and over and over. Walter likes hearing stories I read long ago to his mommy and uncles, and my favorite of those is sort of about a bird—Horton Hatches the Egg.
I never read the mystifyingly popular P.D. Eastman story Are You My Mother? to my own children—indeed, I’d forgotten how both sexist and ornithologically inaccurate it is until Walter received it as a gift. The stereotype of a babushka-wearing mother tending the children without her mate is bad enough when it comes to our own species—it’s woefully inaccurate when it comes to real robin mothers, who stay right on or very close to the nest while their eggs are in the process of hatching. And real robin fathers play a huge role in bringing food to their nestlings. And of course real robin nestlings cannot walk around, period. A duckling would have been a bit better subject for a story about a baby bird getting separated from its family.
Fortunately, Walter is obsessed with a much newer series of nationally acclaimed, award-winning books we discovered at our neighborhood hardware store because the author, Chris Monroe, used to work there and still lives in Duluth. Walter fell in love with Chico Bon Bon, the “Monkey with a Tool Belt,” right as he was becoming obsessed with tools and construction workers.
Now he wants to hear these books over and over and over, and so far I haven’t gotten the least bit tired of them, which is saying something. (Neither of us has seen any episodes of the Netflix series yet.)
Monkey with a Tool Belt and its sequels are not at all about birds, but as a birder who dearly wants Walter to love birds, I relish these books because Chris Monroe weaves birds into the very fabric of Chico Bon Bon’s life. Walter isn’t absorbed with books about real-life birds yet—he wants stories and plots, which Chris Monroe delivers engagingly. But the birds in our daily lives—at the feeder, in and near the creek in Walter’s backyard, running on lawns, sitting in trees and shrubs, or watching us from wires and signs—are part of our world. Birds are part of Chico Bon Bon’s world, too. In Monkey with a Tool Belt, Chico Bon Bon “builds a dock for the ducks”—a group of identifiable Mallards and some outliers, just like the ducks we see in some Duluth ponds—”and a clock for the Clucks,” especially relatable for Walter because his other grandma raises chickens.
On that same page, Chico Bon Bon “uses his nippers for nipping and tucks” while a bluebird looks on.
In Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem, when Chico Bon Bon is trying to figure out what is making the loud racket, he wonders, “was the Woodpecker family playing a trick on him?” Of course, Walter notices and can identify, all by himself, the species portrayed in Chris Monroe’s illustration. (Listen to Walter saying “Pileated Woodpecker” here.)
One of the characters in Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Maniac Muffins is a yellow bird (looks like a goldfinch) named Wayne who gets stuck in maple syrup.
Another yellow bird unsticks Wayne, and we see one or the other helping Chico Bon Bon and his elephant friend Clark with cooking…
I suspect that most people looking for recommendations for bird books for toddlers would consider the Chico Bon Bon series a stretch, even though by pointing out these and other birds in the charming illustrations, we gently reinforce the concept that birds are an essential part of daily life.
But I admit it’s also nice to have picture books with real-life birds as the primary subject. Next time I’ll focus on some of Walter’s current favorites.