Saludos todos! This week marks the end of our April themes, as well as my last ¡Mira, Look! book review as a contributing blogger here at Vamos a Leer. Although I’ll be sad to leave the wonderful Vamos a Leer team, I’m delighted to conclude my blog-writing year with this week’s lovely and sophisticated Parrots over Puerto Rico, written by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore and illustrated by Susan L. Roth. This incredible book reminds me of all the inspiring authors and stories that we’ve featured here on ¡Mira, Look! throughout the year, as it is both mesmerizing and astounding with a powerful message and beautiful imagery.
Parrots over Puerto Rico is a perfect culmination of this year’s diverse themes, incorporating elements of social justice, colonial history, and Caribbean culture. At the same time, it also illustrates this month’s focus on the environment with its overarching aim of encouraging wildlife conservation and environmental awareness. As noted by Kirkus Reviews, Parrots over Puerto Rico is an “ambitious project”: “The text on each vibrant, double-page collage, arranged vertically, intersperses the near-extinction and slow comeback of the Puerto Rican parrot with over 2,000 years of human history.”
Parrots over Puerto Rico, best for ages 6-11, explores the recent rehabilitation of Puerto Rico’s diverse parrot population, and the species’ all-too-close call with extinction: “These are Puerto Rican parrots. They lived on this island for millions of years, and then they nearly vanished from the earth forever. This is their story.” While Roth and Trumbore outline the long, human history of the island of Puerto Rico, they integrate the Puerto Rican parrots as prominent actors in that history, important protagonists who were long overlooked: “this is their story.” In doing so, the authors remind readers that our history is intertwined with that of our planet’s and its species’. Likewise, our future hinges on their future.
Although this book is fun and creative, even by the first page readers will already feel the serious undertone of this story’s narration. Although engaging, the book’s paramount purpose is education. Without using a heavy-handed, grim approach, the book makes the severity of the topics at hand undeniably clear – one of the many elements contributing to this book’s sophistication. Even while highlighting and celebrating human success, feats of problem-solving, the power of science, and the optimism behind conservation and rehabilitation efforts, Parrots over Puerto Rico does not circumvent the extreme damage done to the environment by human civilization and industrialization, and the ultimate responsibility that we have as a species to save our planet.
A review by Publisher’s Weekly nicely synopsizes the extensive timeline of this story and the wayward journey of the Puerto Rican parrot’s survival: “Parrots thrived in Puerto Rico long before the first human settlers arrived some 5,000 years ago; by 1975, only 13 of the birds were still living in the wild.” The story traces the history of human impact upon Puerto Rico’s ecosystem, providing not only valuable insight into the hurdles of the parrot’s survival, but also a wildly informative outline of the island’s past. Kirkus Reviews again observes: “Various peoples—from unnamed aboriginals to Taínos, Europeans, Africans and eventually North Americans—brought with them new flora, fauna and habits, all contributing to the demise of the native birds.”
At the back of the book, Roth and Trumbore provide four full pages of information about the parrots and the rehabilitation aviaries responsible for rejuvenating this delicate species, as well as photographs of scientists, volunteers and the birds themselves. While emphasizing the gravity of this situation of near extinction, the authors also celebrate the initiative, integrity and success of the dedicated scientists and volunteers: “The recovery of the Puerto Rican parrot is a tribute to the passionate and hard-working staff members of the two aviaries.” This story expertly straddles the dual effects of human action—both the help and the harm that can be done to nature and its inhabitants—leaving readers with one central question: which way will you choose?
As readers gaze across the textured, multi-media collages and their imaginations soar through Puerto Rico’s ancient wonderlands of chromatic birds and quilted tree tops, they will be at once entranced by the beauty of the world’s ecosystems, and stupefied by the threat of irrevocably losing them. The resounding impact of this story’s message is at the core of this book’s success. By alternating between extremes of magnificence and destruction, life and extinction, readers are provided with a paradoxical perspective about the natural world: both what we love about it, and what we stand to lose.
For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional links:
- The Classroom Bookshelf, teaching ideas for Parrots over Puerto Rico, grades 2-4, 3-8, and 7-8, as well as a list of further links for teaching about species extinction across the globe.
- Lee and Low lesson plan for Parrots over Puerto Rico, How to Compare and Contrast with the Common Core in Fourth Grade.
- Lee and Low Books, Classroom Guide for Parrots over Puerto Rico
- Lee and Low Books, activity suggestions and discussion questions for Parrots over Puerto Rico, Book and Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure: Zoos!
For those of you interested in learning more about the authors, here are some additional links:
Stay tuned for our upcoming Author’s Corner, and my end-of-the-year closing post!
Images modified from Parrots over Puerto Rico: pages 2, 4, 10, 13