Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: Moonbird

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95
By Phillip M. Hoose
Published 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Have you ever heard of the rufa red knot? Chances are, probably not. But you should. This incredible species of bird flies from the bottom of the globe to the top and back again - every year. And if that isn't incredible enough, one of these birds, B95, has been tagged and tracked and he's made the journey at least 19 times - roughly the distance to the moon and back. This is his story.

No, you are not hallucinating: I did, in fact, read a book - an entire 100+ page book - about a bird. Willingly, even. I think this just proves that if a book is well done and the subject interesting, even the most reluctant of readers can become engaged by it.

This book first came to my attention shortly before it was published last year. Early reviews were excellent and it wasn't long before it was getting awards buzz. Hoose has won awards before, so this really should have come as no surprise to anyone paying attention. But, as I've mentioned before and even though I'm woefully behind in my reading, last year was an excellent year for youth non-fiction. Did this book really have what it takes to stand up against all the competition?

This book is incredibly successful as an exemplar of non-fiction. The story is incredibly compelling. No part of it drags or leaves you wondering why you picked it up in the first place. Hoose captures his audience from page one and keeps them intrigued the whole way through. Additionally, the photos are well-placed and relevant to the surrounding text, another means of keeping the audience engaged. The source notes and bibliography are excellent, and I enjoyed the brief profiles between some of the chapters. My main complaint with the layout of the book is in regards to the text boxes. They did not seem very skillfully placed - often times, they would appear on pages where there was no natural break in the main text to pause and read the information in the text box. I always find it frustrating when reading the broken out text boxes doesn't happen naturally and this was no exception. However, all the information contained within these boxes is worthwhile, so find the method that works best for you to read them.

Hoose is clearly a skilled writer, managing to make the story of B95 and his brethren absolutely enthralling, but also casting a wider net by including the stories of the scientists (and citizen scientists) who devote their lives to the study of this extraordinary creature. I don't think it's going too far to say that many readers will feel inspired to take action and follow their own interests after finishing this book. It's inspiring without feeling preachy - something that can be difficult to pull off. One of the best examples of non-fiction for youth in recent history - I definitely recommend this one.

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