Thursday, May 31, 2012

On the Trail of the Elusive Puffin

My favorite book as an early reader was E. B. White’s Stuart Little. But that’s not the first book I loved. Before I could read, I loved a picture book about puffins. You know puffins, those auks of northern Atlantic and Arctic waters; they’ve got a brightly colored bill. They look like a cross between a penguin and a parrot. Who doesn’t love an auk?

I loved to look at the realistic illustrations of puffins as my mom read to me. I can’t remember the narrative or title of the book, but I can see those vivid images to this day. A beautiful picture book can do that, can inspire our imaginations to soar; and in my case at least, can create a love of books that lasts a lifetime. If you begin with great source material, like a gorgeous sea bird, it’s hard to go wrong. Here's seven on the subject of my beloved puffins:

Puffins, part of the True Books: Animals series, 2007, Scholastic Inc.
The True Books series has been a staple of libraries since the 1950s and you’ll see why. The True Books are beautifully produced and informative with lots of fun sidebars and resources. This is a great general knowledge book about puffins and your kids will understand a lot about them after reading this. And the photography is gorgeous. But these are photos of puffins so how could they not be gorgeous?

A Puffin’s Year by Katherine Zecca, 2007, Down East Books.
Lovely illustrations take readers through a year in the life of a puffin family including the birth of young until the group is ready to take their place among adult puffins at sea. Charming illustrations put the story in a child’s world.

Puffin’s Homecoming: The Story of an Atlantic Puffin by Darice Bailer, 1995, Smithsonian Wild Heritage Collection.
Similar to A Puffin’s Year, in Puffin’s Homecoming, an Atlantic puffin and his mate meet annually on a high bluff off the coast of Maine. The puffin’s mate bears a single egg from which a hatchling is nurtured to maturity. The illustrations are beautiful, but you’re more likely to find this book in your local library than at a bookstore, as it’s out of print and a bit tricky to find, but worth it if you do.

Project Puffin: How We Brought Puffins Back to Egg Rock by Stephen W. Kress, 2003, Tilbury House Publishers.
This illustrated book tells the story of Stephen Kress’ determination to reintroduce puffins to Eastern Egg Rock, an island off the Maine coast. Kress describes Project Puffin, which began in 1973, when he and his team of “Puffineers” (where do I sign up?) moved a few puffin chicks from Newfoundland to Eastern Egg Rock. This is a true tale of puffin triumph.

Nothing Like a Puffin by Sue Soltis, 2011, Candlewick Books.
Fun, graphic illustrations accompany this truly unique look at puffins. Sue Soltis likes to encourage readers to make connections and realize that seemingly different things can have a lot in common. You may not have though that a puffin is like a shovel, a helicopter or a snake, but you will after reading this book. I love the way Soltis expands the topic and encourages new ways of thinking. You don't get the grandeur of photography or realistic illustration, but in its own way, Nothing Like a Puffin encourages a deep understanding of puffins.

Puffling by Margaret Wild, Julie Vivas, 2009, Feiwel & Friends Publishing.
Did you know a baby puffin is called a puffling? This story is told from the point of view of baby puffling who is anxious to grow up and leave the nest. It’s a great little milestone story told from a youngster’s perspective. The illustrations are adorable and the story is just right for preschoolers and early readers.

Nights of the Pufflings by Bruce McMillan, 1997, Sandpiper Press.
Speaking of pufflings, Bruce McMillan’s book tells the story of pufflings with a beautiful photo essay. The story takes place in Iceland, where a group of children help pufflings reach the sea on their maiden flight. Like young sea turtles, pufflings’ first trip to the sea is a hazardous make-or-break moment in their lives and these Icelandic children see to it that the pufflings don’t fall prey to hazards along the way. This book is also out of print but can be found in libraries and through used booksellers. The photos alone make the quest well worth the effort.

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