Thursday, March 21, 2013

Travis' Book Review: Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose


Moonbird is the story of a particularly extraordinary rufa red knot, a subspecies of migratory shorebirds. The bird is named B95, a title designated to him simply by the letter and number on the tag that scientists branded him with. Coincidentally, B95 was first discovered by scientists in 1995 on an island in Patagonia, the southernmost tip of South America. B95 had his adult plumage when he was first tagged, suggesting that he was at least 3 years old. At the time, B95 and the rest of his flock were preparing for one of the most impressive feats of physical endurance in the animal kingdom – flying to the other end of the earth. Since then, B95 has become a legend, astounding scientists and bird enthusiasts all over the world for his ability to survive. B95 was last spotted in Delaware Bay in May of 2012, on his way to find summer nesting grounds in the Canadian arctic, looking as spry as a juvenile but at least 20 years old. This means that the bird has flown from one end of the earth and back each year, for at least 20 years! In his lifetime, B95 has flown more than the distance to the moon, truly earning the name, “Moonbird.”  Even more amazing is the fact that B95 has survived predators, environmental corruption by humans, plagues of red tide, and powerful storms that can easily knock a bird from the sky.


B95 truly is a great survivor, but unfortunately, his species is in rapid decline. Phillip Hoose does a wonderful job with Moonbird because the book is not only the story of B95, but a means to educate readers about the importance of conservation and protection of the rufa red knot and all wildlife. B95 is the hero of the story, though, and the writer recognizes the importance of focusing the story on the actions of his character. Readers are able to associate a face with the problem – the face of the lone survivor of the initial scientific sample. Throughout the book, Hoose uses a number of literary, journalistic, and scientific writing methods to tell the story of B95 and the great migration of his flock. The story follows a narrative, chronicling the birds from the beginning of their journey, to the end, where it will start all over again. To complete the narrative part of the story, Hoose fills the work with anecdotes, footnotes that elaborate on the story, and profiles the scientists that contribute to the study of the birds and the growing conservation efforts. He incorporates photographs and maps, as well, which really illustrate just how impressive the birds migration patterns. Once the story has been told and the problem presented, Hoose then empowers the reader by telling them about regular people putting forth extraordinary efforts to save the species. He then gives readers tips on how they, too, can become part of the effort, including contact information for a number of the groups or individuals. 


The only negative criticism I have of the book is that it often feels too much like a text book. I love the anecdotes, footnotes, and empowerment boxes, but the pages are filled with them. I often found myself jumping away from the narrative to read the boxes or captions, which could sometimes be a little repetitive. Then, I would have to reread a few lines so that I could reenter the narrative. After reading the first few chapters, though, I found it easiest to simply finish the chapter and then return to the notes. Other than that, Moonbird is a well-written, thought-provoking look at the importance of the individual species in the world’s ecology. Moonbird is part narrative, part educational, and part call-to-arms. It serves to motivate individuals, but can easily be the basis of a study or resource for a school report on the importance of conservation. I would highly recommend it to middle readers, teens, or to anyone wanting to understand the importance of conservation and world ecology. 


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