Review by Adam Cruickshank
Faansie's Bird Book a fully fledged field guide for kids by Faansie Peacock
Pavo Publishing 2018
432 pages, paperback
Faansie Peacock is one of my personal favourite birding related authors – he is not only someone who writes great books, is also an amazing artist, but more than that he is one of the nicest people you will meet. His LBJ and wader books are sought after guides that take a pride of place on any serious birder’s bookshelf. He also contributed much of the artwork for the latest Sasol Field Guide. This guide takes a bit of a different angle to other bird guides available on the market. The book’s target market is children, but as we will see as we look at this book, it’s will definitely have a much broader appeal, especially for newer birders.
The cover illustration of the book is a colourful African Hoopoe proudly showing off its striking plumage. The name of the book draws on a ‘mish-mash’ of child friendly fonts that may have a few graphic designers not too pleased – but alas, they are not the target audience for this guide. The cover is simple, uncluttered, with examples of the style of artwork that one can expect in the book.
The inside cover of the book starts to show the simplified approach that Peacock (oh yes, that is his real name) used throughout the book. Perhaps drawing inspiration from the late Kenneth Newman, he provides a system whereby the user would place the species that is seen into a bird grouping. But unlike other guides simpler terminology is used – plungers, swimmers, waders, walkers, raptors, sleepers, favourites, flyers, runners, perchers, suckers, and seed-eaters. The terms may not be proper ornithological terms, but ornithologists and expert birders are not the intended market – and the terms that are used will make a lot more sense to a child when they see a bird. Peacock draws on both his deep bird knowledge, but also embraces his creative side throughout the book, ensuring a refreshing look at the birds of the region.
Peacock starts the book by addressing the parents, not only sharing why he feels that birding is a great hobby for children, but also sharing a list of tips on how to make birding fun for children. This is a valuable tool for parents that love nature and are looking for ways to help their children have a greater enjoyment when they are out in the field. Having been able to spend a short amount of time with Peacock, I have seen first-hand that the tips that he shares are not ‘copy and paste’ from the internet but have been learnt when taking his own children out into the field.
He then does a short introduction for the children that will use the book on birding, some of the tips that he gives them to help them start birding are not great tips for young aspiring birders, but for anyone that wants to get started. He provides an overview of South Africa’s top birding spots using simple language, that will not only get the children excited, but will also get parents itching to explore the region a lot more.
The ‘Hide and Seek’ that finds its way into the introductory pages of the book, where users must find things such as animals, reptiles, and even people and things as they use the book, shows one of the strengths of the book – the fact that the book is strongly interactive. At the bottom of every page there is nuggets of information on a whole range of subjects – many of the facts presented will introduce children to conservation issues. The book also has ‘The Bird Nerd Game’ at the back of the book – which give children points based on which bird that say based on how common the bird is, if it is an endemic species, and a Top 20 list of the most sought-after birds in the region. There are also ‘Did you Know’ circles and ‘Top Tip’s provided throughout the book – as you can see this is a lot more than just a field guide – but it’s a great tool that allows children to learn about birds and nature in an enjoyable way. This book will be a great tool in primary school classrooms to educate children about the wonder of the natural world around them.
Unlike some of the bird field guides aimed at adults, the information provided for each of the species is basic. Each group of birds is introduced with a short, but informative write up – giving the information in a way that is both simple and fun. There is bold illustration provided for each species showing the main features to be looked for, distribution, as well as other illustrations to assist with the identification (some of these illustrate ID features, while others illustrate things such as habitat and behaviour). To aid the learning process, the illustrations are labelled to point out the main features to look out for. On certain species he also uses a cartoon like speech bubble to show the call of the bird. Peacock doesn’t illustrate things such as differences between sexes and seasonal variations, instead he focusses on keeping the ID process simplified with the younger user in mind. Each page in the book is a ‘treasure trove’ of information that will keep young minds (or curious older minds) interested for hours on end. Personally, I have found myself spending hours paging through the book and taking in all the information that the book presents -
Something that may cause older users to borrow their kids’ book is the pages that help ID waders and the dreaded LBJ’s. On Page 97 of the book there is a fantastic page that helps separate the sandpipers showing the size, bill shape, features, and habitat. Struggle with pipits? Well Peacock has your back! On page 275 of the book there is a page dedicated to unravelling the mystery of pipit identification. On page 349 he tackles the tricky cisticola species with a system where you answer a series of questions until you find the most likely species. These sorts of pages in the book broadens the appeal of the book beyond only kids and makes it a great buy for birders that are looking for an entry level book. The help pages might not solve every difficult identification on the field, but it will help you to know what to look out for when looking at a species in the field.
This is a book that we highly recommend not only for the kids in your life, but also for people that are looking for a simple field guide that speaks in a language that you understand. The book is bold, colourful and lots of fun. When I was younger my father got me an electric train set for Christmas, the problem was that on the Christmas that I got it he spent more time playing with it than I did! This might be the biggest problem with the brilliant book – the kids many have a difficult time ‘wrestling’ it away from their parents.
This book has set a whole new standard for what kids nature books should look like!
The book is available in both English and Afrikaans
Images sourced from:
Order Faansie's Kids Bird Book from the Wild Books Online store, use the code 'Birding' for a 5% discount on your order
English Version - https://www.wildbooks.co.za/product/faansies-bird-book/?wpam_id=3
Afrikaans Version - https://www.wildbooks.co.za/product/faansie-se-voel-boek/?wpam_id=3