I'll be the first to admit that when it comes to nonfiction books about the natural world, I prefer photography to artistic renderings. Of course, there are always exceptions. Jim Arnosky's, Thunderbirds (Sterling, 2011) and Martin Jenkins', Can We Save the Tiger? (Candlewick, 2011) come to mind.
Parrots Over Puerto Rico, however, is an extraordinary exception. Using highly detailed collage art, and employing many textured and brightly colored materials, Susan L. Roth has created a book that accurately portrays the colors of the island and evokes the stunning beauty of the endangered parrots of Puerto Rico. Designed to be read "portrait style," the collages cover about 2/3 of each double-spread layout. Cindy Trumbore's narrative appears in a simple black font in the bottom third of the collage against a plain, complementary-colored background.
As stunning as it is, the artwork is not the only thing to love about Parrots over Puerto Rico. An astute teacher's dream, Parrots takes a holistic view of the parrots' rapid decline and slow slog back to viability in the wild. As the story of the American Bison is forever entwined with the story of American Westward expansion, the Puerto Rican's parrot story is entwined with that of the Tainos, the Spaniards, and the Americans, as well as that of invasive species, and natural disasters like Hurricane Hugo.
Existing for millions of years on the island of Puerto Rico, they once numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and by 1975, had dwindled to only 13.
Above the treetops of Puerto Rico flies a flock or parrots as green as their island home. If you look up from the forest, and you are very lucky, you might catch the bright blue flashes of their flight feathers and hear their harsh call.
These are Puerto Rican parrots. They lived on this island for millions of years, and then they nearly vanished from the earth forever. This is their story.
An Afterword contains photographs and information on the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program. Also included is a timeline of Important Dates in the History of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican Parrots, and Author's Sources.
Among others, Parrots Over Puerto Rico can boast of these awards:
- Starred Reviews in: Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, The Horn Book Magazine
- Original Art 2013, Society of Illustrators
- Books for Youth Editors' Choice 2013, Booklist
- Junior Library Guild Selection
You can see a preview of Parrots Over Puerto Rico on Lee & Low's website, however, it doesn't do the book justice, as the preview is in landscape mode, while the actual bound book reads lengthwise. Still, it's worth a gander.
Check out this short video if you'd like to see an actual Puerto Rican parrot.
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