Sunday, April 14, 2013

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip M. Hoose

Ever hear of a robin-sized bird that flies from South Pole to the North Pole? Me neither. This story follows the migratory patterns of Moonbird, a rufa red knot, that travels 18,000 miles each year on a primordial quest for food and mates. Researchers tagged Moonbird in 1995 and ironically put a band on his leg that represented the captured group B series - he just happened to be number 95. The author tends to call him B95 moreso than Moonbird. Moonbird's name reflects that after twenty years, he has flown the same distance to the moon and almost back to earth. No other bird tagged has lived this long or traveled this far. He is Superbird, an amazing flying machine. In ten years, the rufa red knots have gone from 150,000 to 15,000. The author looks at why this is and tackles questions regarding how to stop it.

This expository text is so engaging that I kept spitting out facts to my husband as I was being wowed by this tiny creature that performs feats that don't seem possible. Did you know that this bird eats 14 times it's weight and manages to fly? Did you know in 2009 scientists invented geolocators so lightweight and small that they can track bird migration? Did you know that horseshoe crab blood is used to make sure medical equipment is sterilized? Did you know... the poor guy won't have to read the book after me being a chatterbox of nonstop facts through 120 pages. While the author explains how the bird has evolved in order to make this journey of exhaustion and gives clear reasons for its impending extinction, it is a harder text because it is a hybrid nonfiction narrative that requires a higher level of comprehension.

Hybrid texts require synthesizing captions, sidebars, graphs, and main text. The narrative story shifts points of view that might confuse some. The first paragraph in the introduction is in italics and is from the bird's point of view, with paragraph two in the 3rd person, and the last paragraph switching back to the first person narrative. The next chapter begins in first person narrative while the profiles are in third person. While it is handled extremely well, it makes for a more complex read.

This book is loaded with different themes involving environmental impact, handling animals ethically, scientific study of shorebirds, to name a few. Hoose draws upon firsthand experience, secondary sources and interviews. I particularly like the story of Patricia Gonzalez who worked with her high school students to protect beaches in San Antonio Bay, Argentina. The book is interspersed with the story of the migration narrated by Hoose, along with profiles of scientists or activists in protecting the birds. Text boxes and maps explain concepts such as molting, distance, banding, and other amazing facts. The subtext on horseshoe crabs, the fragility of ecosystems, and the cost to fisherman's livelihood is balanced and clearly presented to readers.

The writing is gorgeous. You can smell, feel, and hear the ocean with this text. "Then hundreds of chattering birds, some beginning to show hints of red in their feathering, beat their wings and rise into the air as one, towering up into a tight, swirling, shape-shifting column that seeks the wind and looks like drifting smoke to a shorebound observer." Phillip Hoose captures the senses and creates a moving story. I was so wrapped up in B95's tale that I got tears in my eyes as the suspense builds as to whether or not Moonbird is alive or dead. Hoose's first person point of view also pulled me into the story like the tide coming in; his experiences with banding and capturing the creatures engage all the senses. This topnotch book pulls together information from scientists, activists, children, biologists, fisherman, and personal experience to create a fantastic tale of hope for the future of these birds and for humanity to correct some damage they are causing to the environmental. A must read.

5 Smileys


  1. I too,read the amazing story of this courageous little bird. My first read was last summer and another spring is here and I'm now reading it again wondering where our determined little red knot is now and has it started its trek north yet...Love this book, I have given it as gifts many times this year, all were totally awed by the story...Go 95, you can do it again...Thanks Phillip Hoose we all need books like this..

  2. It is a book that I gush over with students. I wish there were more like this gem! I loved the book's design - gorgeous layout and presentation of ancillary text. I wonder if the author had any input on how he wanted it laid out? I liked how the profiles of the scientists were interspersed with B95. Let me know if you can think of another book like it. I know I'll have students asking, "Can you recommend a book like Moonbird?"