Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore

  • Title: Parrots Over Puerto Rico
  • Author: Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore
  • Publisher: Lee & Low Books
  • Year Published: 2013
  • ISBN:1620140047
  • List Price: $19.95
  • Page Count: 416
  • Age Range: 6-11
  • Genre: scientific nonfiction
  • Award(s): Sibert Medal Winner

Author information: Cindy Trumbore is an author of children’s books as well as an accomplished editor. Her website includes biographical information, links to information about each of her titles, information about writing workshops the author has given, and information about her editing services and the publishing industry.

Susan L. Roth has illustrated and co-written a number of children’s titles. Her website, as befitting an artist, is full of pictures and color. Her site includes biographical information and contact information as well as links to all of her books. Her website also includes information about her artwork, such as how she got interested in collaging, how a beginner could use this technique, what kind of tools she uses, and some fun getting started exercises. She also includes a brief Q & A section as well as a section about the research she has done for her books.

Reviews: Booklist gave this title a starred review. It mentions the fact that the scope of this book–focusing on over 7000 years of history–was a daunting choice and one that is difficult to pull off well, but this title manages flawlessly. It lauds the multi-faceted artwork and says that it enhances and complements the narrative. Finally, Booklist says that this book is “a triumphant reminder of the inescapable connection between people’s actions and the animals in the wild”. Horn Book and Kirkus also give this title starred reviews and say similar positive things about the book: it has an ambitious scope, important message, and wonderful artwork.

Readers annotation: Parrots lived in Puerto Rico for millions of years, and then, because of humans, they almost vanished.

Summary: Parrots lived on the island of Puerto Rico long before humans did. In 5000 BC, humans started settling there, and in 1493 Christopher Columbus claimed the island for Spain. People kept migrating to Puerto Rico and building on the island, cutting down the forests in which the parrots lived. Then, another bird species started stealing the parrots’ homes and food, making the parrot population diminish further. By 1967, only twenty four parrots remained. In order to save the parrots, Puerto Rico and the United States worked together to rebuild habitat and incubate parrots in captivity, and the parrot population is slowly rising.

Evaluation: This is probably my favorite picture book that I’ve read for the class, which is why I chose to review it last. The artwork is stunning. The cover, which is completely wordless, features three large collaged parrots against a bright blue background, and the combination of colors and wordlessness immediately captures the readers’ attention and makes them want to open the book. The book itself is skewed so that readers flip the pages up instead of from the right, an artistic decision that makes the parrots seem like they are taking over the sky and gives the artwork a scope and depth it would lack in a traditional format. The collages capture color and movement exquisitely, from the wind of a hurricane to the rushing of a waterfall. The pictures are a visual delight and will cause readers to linger over each page, marveling at textures and noticing details in each scene. The narrative matches the strength of the artwork. It takes the readers through the story of the Puerto Rican parrots, from their life before humans reached the island, to their decline from deforestation and competitive species, to the successful attempts at reviving this species. Although the story ends on a hopeful note, it also provides a strong cautionary tale about the impact that humans can have on the environment and how humans can easily destroy an entire species. The book concludes with an afterword that has photographs of the parrots and scientists and gives more background information about the recovery process, driving home the point that this is a true story and scientists are still working on the preservation of this species today.

Rating and appeal factors:

  • Quality:  5/5  The collages are gorgeous and the message of this book is well-delivered and crucial in today’s world.
  • Popularity: 4/5 Some readers may find this story to be a bit slow, considering there is no defined protagonist or single character to root for, but the majority of readers will find much to love in this title. The artwork is captivating and readers will be drawn in by the plight of the parrots and the efforts to protect them, made all the more urgent and compelling because it is a true story.
  • Appeal factors: collage artwork, animals, wildlife conservation, scientific nonfiction, happy ending.

Read-alikes: 

  1.  Bird lovers may also enjoy Sibert Honor book, Look Up! Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate. Although this book lacks the stunning illustrations and moral message of Parrots, it would be a great fit for readers who are intrigued by Parrots but want to be able to learn about nature more locally and interact with it on a more personal level.

Book talk ideas: Start by showing the kids the cover of the book.  If that doesn’t get their attention, nothing will. Ask them to call out ways in which humans can negatively affect the environment (pollution, building, killing animals, etc). Then explain that this book is the true (yes, true) story of how a species almost went extinct because of humans, but then humans helped to save and protect it. Show a few of the collage pictures of the book to really stimulate interest in reading this book.

Discussion questions/ideas:

  1. How does this book make you feel?
  2. In the book, we learn how humans have hurt the environment and the animals around us. What other examples can you give of this happening?
  3. In the end, humans help the parrots survive. What are some ways that you can help the environment?

Reason for reading: This was one of the first picture book titles I read this semester and it remains one of my favorites. I was interested in looking at some nonfiction titles for this project and this title immediately caught my eye. I volunteer at the California Academy of Sciences and am very interested in nature and environmental conservation, and I’ve previously read other nonfiction titles in this same genre (Moonbird by Phillip Hoose). Of course, the cover of the book and the quality of the artwork captured my attention as well.

Additional information: This semester, I read all of the Caldecott Winner and Honor Books for 2013, as well as a number of books that were considered Caldecott “hopefuls”, such as Mr. Tiger Goes Wild and The Dark. I enjoyed most of the books that were honored this year, but I do think that Parrots Over Puerto Rico was at least as worthy, if not more, of receiving an Honor. Many blogs, such as Wonders in the Dark, also pegged this book as a likely Caldecott candidate. I wonder to what extent this title’s win of the Sibert medal influenced its consideration for a Caldecott, if at all, considering the Caldecott winner, Locomotive, was a Sibert Honor book.

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