Review of Bird Girl, written by Jill Esbaum, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

Bird Girl

Gene Stratton-Porter Shares Her Love of Nature with the World

written by Jill Esbaum
illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

Calkins Creek, 2024. 44 pages.
Review written April 30, 2024, from a library book.
Starred Review

Bird Girl is a picture book biography of Gene Stratton-Porter. Many years ago, I read A Girl of the Limberlost, and I expected the story of her life as an author. Instead, the book told about her fascination with studying and caring for birds and her groundbreaking work as a nature photographer who photographed birds in their natural settings.

And then I remembered that I learned from her novels how important it is for farmers to leave trees on the edges of their fields – because then birds will help them eliminate pests. And that was only a bit of the nature lore in her novels.

The book is bright and colorful and uses entertaining anecdotes to tell the story. When she was a girl, she hid a hawk’s droppings from her farmer father so he wouldn’t know where the nest was and kill it. Later, when he did shoot down a hawk, she took care of it and befriended it until its wing healed.

As an adult, Gene Stratton-Porter had a house with a conservatory that had windows with special hatches so birds could come and go, and she kept food for birds throughout her house.

She began photographing birds because the illustrations a magazine wanted to use for her stories were drawings of stuffed birds in unnatural positions. She learned to photograph and develop her own film – and then she went out into the nearby Limberlost swamp to take the pictures.

She fights through spongy muck and tangled undergrowth – rattlesnake territory – to reach the hollow tree where a vulture nests. She goes back time and again to capture the world’s first photo series of a growing vulture chick.

She ended up with a vast knowledge of wildlife acquired through patient observation that began when she was a child. And her story shows kids the power of a quirky obsession.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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