Illustrated by Catherine Rayner
For ages 3+
Our national treasure, Julia Donaldson, author of what feels like squillions of children's books, has a beautiful new children's picture books out called 'The Bowerbird'. I love that publisher, Macmillan, went for another project pairing Donaldson with much-loved illustrator Catherine Rayner. Rayner is a children's author in her own right, and for me, she's right up there with Jackie Morris when it comes to illustrating animals and birds in children's literature. I absolutely ADORED the Donaldson-Rayner 'The Go-Away Bird', which was a massive lockdown success. I mean just look at this cover-art... don't you just want to cuddle it!! Stunning!!
Today's book club falls during the last week before the half term holiday. I don't know about you, but I'm starting to feel the niggles of burn out!! It's been a long academic year filled with all sorts of excitement and change. Hence today, I reflected on some of the books that had published over the course of this first half of the Spring Term, and thought to myself that 'The Bowerbird' is such a visual delight, so filled with rhyme and reason that we'd all love it. What's more, you have additional FREE downloads this week, because the publisher have produced a really super activity pack. Treats all round then!!
About the book
One of the children said to me as I held up the book to show them what we were reading today, "the bird's tummy looks like a pineapple, I LOVE pineapple, I just want to eat him, he's so cute!!!!" She's so right on all accounts, but especially because Bert the bowerbird is MEGA cute. He looks so very fluffy, kind and sweet and well, actually he is.
In real life, bowerbirds live in Australia and Papa New Guinea. This story is based on their mating process whereby the male will make a rather large bower (nest) and decorate it with all sorts of tantalising items it finds... hoping that a female will want to join him and make lots of mini-bowerbirds (there's a little description with a photo of a bowerbird at the back of the book).
Whilst learning about one of our planet's wonderful birds of nature, the reader follows Bert's journey to attract a mate. He starts off with a beautiful purple flower, laid at the entrance to his bower, his little beak upturned in a smile. Eventually a female comes by, Nanette, Bert is made up and lets her know she's the one and hopefully she likes his flower! Alas, Nanette isn't impressed one bit! She sends Bert off to find more things.
A few things were discussed at this point with the children. I explained that this was the process by which Bert is essentially searching for a 'partner' to start a family with, e.g. a wife in this case. Some slightly raised eyebrows. One child said to me, "well he hasn't even said please." Slight alarm bells for poor Bert... what's Nanette's price going to be? She doesn't look very kindly at him. Can't Bert see that perhaps she's not his 'true love'?
Bert ends up going back and forth from the bower time and again; Nanette never being satisfied. The rhyming text ebbs and flows with emotions of desperation, exasperation, hope and disappointment. It gets to the point where Bert has collected so many things including a mobile phone, a bell, a sweet wrapper, a comb that he attracts the attention of another male bird... a male bird called Claude. Bert is naive, trusting, foolish, and ends up being double-crossed by Claude and returns from a wild goose chase to find his bower empty apart from his beautiful purple flower. Don't despair though, readers, because love is out there for Bert... there's such a very sweet ending.
The repetition of all the items Bert collects is fantastic throughout the story. There are plenty of pause points and opportunities to engage with the children, including spotting items, naming them, asking the children to try to remember what was in the bower each time something new is added.
We also chatted about the items inside the bower... the man-made vs nature-made objects of desire. I think this is a fantastic introduction to thinking about attraction and why people are attracted to each other. What is true happiness after all? If you take away all the toys and treasures, is that person you're left with really your one and only?
One of my book clubbers this morning asked me whether this is a "teaching book". What a lovely thing to ask out of the blue like that. It was wonderful to then talk about how all books teach something to the reader, no matter whether you're an adult or a child. I asked the children to remember that every story is written by a person who has had their own life journey and experiences, and we continue to share our lives with each other, and learn from each other. What a joyful group of young people. I'm so lucky.
I hope you do get a chance to read 'The Bowerbird' and share it with children in your care. Fortunately, as it's a Julia Donaldson title, it should be readily available in libraries and almost every bookshop selling children's books you can find (even the supermarkets). We had a lovely time doing the publisher's 'The Bowerbird' crossword and then we used my book-based activity sheet to draw Bert in his bower and decide whether we'd decorate it with beautiful items from nature or man-made objects like phones or toys... Almost all just decorated theirs with flowers or love hearts.
Download my FREE activity sheet
Download the publisher's FREE activity pack
About the creators
Julia Donaldson (author)
Julia Donaldson has written some of the world's best-loved children's books, and was the 2011-2013 Children's Laureate. Her books include the modern classic The Gruffalo, the Princess Mirror-Belle series and Running on the Cracks, winner of the Nasen Inclusive Children's Book Award 2009. Julia also writes poems, songs and plays – and her brilliant live shows are always in demand. Julia and her husband Malcolm divide their time between West Sussex and Edinburgh. (Source: Macmillan)
Catherine Rayner (illustrator)
Catherine Rayner studied illustration at Edinburgh College of Art. She fell in love with the city and still lives there with her family and a small menagerie of creatures including Shannon the horse, Ena the cat and a goldfish called Richard, all of whom inspire her artwork. In 2008 Catherine was selected as one of the Ten Best New Illustrators for Booktrust's Big Picture Campaign. She has been short-listed for the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal four times, and won in 2009 for Harris Finds His Feet. In addition to illustrating for other authors such as Michael Bond, Holly Webb and Michael Morpurgo, she has also written her own picture books, including Ernest, Solomon Crocodile, Solomon and Mortimer and Smelly Louie, which won the Peter's Book of the Year award in 2015. (Source: Macmillan)
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Publication date: 30 March 2023
Also written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Catherine Rayner:
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