Moonbird by Phillip Hoose

Lynn:  Revered writer (by me anyway) Phillip Hoose turns his attention to the bird world again with an amazing book about an equally amazing type of bird, the Red Knot, and more specifically a very special individual bird – B95.  Moonbird:  A Year On the Wind With the Great Survivor B95 (Farrar 2012) introduces readers to the Red Knots – birds that winter in Tierra del Fuego and summer 9,000 miles away in the Canadian Arctic.  They make that flight from one extreme of the planet to other with only a very few stops to rest and eat along the way.  It is only fairly recently that scientists have learned the full extent of this amazing feat and Hoose describes the fascinating research that has and is being conducted and introduces the world-wide team that studies the red knot today.  There is special concern about the red knot as the number of birds has dropped by nearly 80% in the past few years to only about 25,000 birds.

This would be a fascinating story all by itself but Hoose sets this book apart by using an unusual and extremely effective approach to what is sadly an all-too common story of endangered life.  He focuses on one particular bird – B95 – from the band number on his leg –  and B95 is indeed a special bird.  Now over 20 years old, B95 is truly a super athlete having flown more than 325,000 miles in 18 years!  Truly a superbird and one that gives hope to all of us that his species can be saved.

Hoose chronicles B95’s epic journey and provides fascinating information about red knots, what they eat, where they live, rest, and breed and the ecology so important to their survival.  Equally fascinating is the story of the scientific study that surrounds them and amazing events that led to much of our current knowledge.  Hoose puts the reader squarely on those wind swept beaches and in the air with B95 and has the reader cheering him every wing flap of his tremendous journey.

Cindy: B95’s story is fascinating and it sent me searching for news of sightings following the last one documented in the book when he was phographed in Rio Grande, Argentina on Nov. 25, 2011. Success! He was photographed in Reeds Beach, N.J. in late May 2012, confirming he made the journey to the arctic and headed back south for the winter. The sighting was by Patricia M. Gonzalez, the Argentine biologist who first banded B95 back in 1995. You can read about her excitement at seeing him again in this NY Times blog post. If you want to know more about Ms. Gonzalez you can read her short biography in Moonbird. Hoose inserts double page spreads with information about the many people behind the work to research and save the red knot, including a high school student, Mike Hudson, who started the group The Friends of the Red Knot.

Okay, by now we all know that Lynn is a bird geek, um, I mean a bird watcher, but Hoose tells a story that will reach a wider audience. The details about how the red knot transforms itself physically is astounding. Not only does the bird have to stock up on food (fuel) for its long flights, but it has to do so in the most efficient way and with caution about weight that will cause him to burn more fuel. So, the bird transforms in numerous ways even waiting to grow organs until they are needed so they won’t impede earlier legs of the flight.

The book also includes maps of the migratory routes, inset boxes with background information on the concepts being discussed, and of course lots of gorgeous photos. There’s an appendix called “What you can do” to encourage readers to take action. Many of the resources directly target the Red Knot population, but the ideas are easily transferable to other environmental issues that may be of local interest.

Be sure to check out Phillip Hoose’s website for some updates about B95, including a photo of a statue of B95 with Ms. Gonzalez. There are scientists watching for B95 in Argentina this week. Keep your fingers crossed!

Common Core Connections:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.9 Compare and contrast one author’s presentation of events with that of another (e.g., a memoir written by and a biography on the same person).

Have students read Chapter Three about the role that horseshoe crabs play in the survival of the red knot. Then have them research the horseshoe crab and compare and contrast what they learn about the crab in various sources.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.1 Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

Keeping with the theme of the horseshoe crabs, have students use textual support from Hoose’s book and their research in an argumentative writing assignment to justify whether or not horseshoe crab harvesting should be regulated in an effort to save the red knot.

Perhaps even better than a Common Core connection, B95 and his heroic feats could spur your students to action to address an ecological concern in their area.

You can find a whole flock of Nonfiction Monday blog posts today at Capstone Connect.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

2 Comments on "Moonbird by Phillip Hoose"

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  1.' Phil Hoose says:

    Dear Cindy and Lynn,

    Thanks for such a thoughtful and practical review. I especially appreciate your delineating the core connections. This will be helpful to others. And I’m glad you liked the story of course! I want you to know that Charles Duncan is down in Tierra del Fuego right now, with a group of local birders, searching for B95. So far it seems a little early, not many birds as of yesterday, but we can keep our fingers crossed–no clenched! Phil Hoose

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