She Heard the Birds

She Heard the Birds: the story of Florence Merriam Bailey
Andrea D’Aquino
Princeton Architectural Press

In this inspiring picture book biography author/illustrator Andrea D’Aquino shines a light on key moments in the life of the pioneering American ornithologist and nature activist Florence Merriam Bailey who was born in 1863.

Daughter of a camping enthusiast father and astronomer mother, Florence grew up surrounded by nature in which she developed an early interest, especially when it came to birds. These she found the most fascinating and she spent time learning as much as she could about these feathered creatures.

As a young woman, while visiting the city, Florence was appalled by the sight of people – dedicated followers of fashion – wearing hats decorated with feathers and the bodies of birds. She was even more disgusted by the sounds of the gunshots in the woods of those ornithologists who thought it acceptable to shoot birds in order to study them.

Determined to make a difference, Florence, armed only with her tools for observing birds – knew she must answer the calls for help of the birds and to do so she must dream big.

She put the information she’d collected into print, writing field guides, and other bird books some giving suggestions about how readers too could learn about these precious creatures becoming peaceful observers of birds in nature too.

Thus guns could be replaced by binoculars and listeners to their songs taking heed of her ‘Shhhhhhh! Listen. What are they saying?’would be filled with delight and share her determination to push forward crucial changes.

Thus it was that one person’s mission gradually became that of many;

the end result being that ‘The world became safer for the birds, and more beautiful for us all.’ How this was actually achieved we aren’t told but it’s evident that the millinery trade and others got the message that began with a single woman nature lover.

In her hand-painted collage, oil pastel, and pencil illustrations, Andrea D’Aquino focuses the reader’s attention on her subject’s personal mission while using rich colours to emphasise the overwhelming importance of nature and its beauty, and giving the birds centre stage.

In addition to giving more detail about Bailey’s life, the final spread contains a reminder that the struggle to protect birds continues and there are some recommendations for readers who want to help.

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