How exciting to receive a request from a publisher, Lee and Low Books, to review a book that links in perfectly with the goals of my blog and my own writing. Puffling Patrol, as you will discover, takes us on a true trip to an animal conservation project that involves many children each year. It also takes us to a little known European island. Caldecott honor winner, Ted and Betsy Lewin, are not unknown for travels to, and books about, remote places. Maybe you have read THE GORILLA WALK set in Uganda, or my favorite, HORSE SONG, set in Mongolia? Are you ready to go to Iceland with me?
Puffling Patrol By Ted and Betsy Lewin
Published by Lee and Low Books, March 2012 (56 pages)
Ages: 7 upwards
Themes: Puffins, animal conservation, Iceland, community, Puffling rescue
Opening Lines/Synopsis: “It is the end of August. Soon the adult puffins will be gone to spend the winter in the cold northern seas. The pufflings in the dark burrows will then be on their own.”
Did you know those cute fluffy babies were called pufflings? Ted and Betsy made a trip out to Iceland’s Westman Islands to find out more about these baby birds and their survival. They visit the islands by zodiac over rough seas, and get so see firsthand the cliffs, where in the spring, the puffins dig their burrows to hatch and raise their offspring. By August, the pufflings are ready, or most are, to fend for themselves. While many pufflings head straight out to sea, some, confused by the town’s lights, and maybe with wings not quite strong enough yet, head inland, and the local phenomenen of ‘it’s raining pufflings’ occurs.
After a visit to the Natural History Museum, which acts as the puffling center, they see their first puffling rescue, brought in the previous night. The Lewins link up with 8 year-old twins, Danni and Enna, who, along with many other local children, are key players in the summer “Puffling Patrol.” This is a community of solidarity – ‘their real love is for puffins, that small chunky black and white seabird.”
The kids (and parents) set out after 10:00PM wrapped up well for a summer icelandic evening, and the pouring rain. Danni has eagle eyes. The previous year he had rescued 27 pufflings in one evening. I was surprised to see that the children are allowed to handle and cuddle these pufflings, as generally human contact is minimized when working with animals one is returning to the wild. I am assuming it is less important with birds than with mammals. My favorite scene is the next morning, when, the pufflings found the night before, having been checked for size and health, are registered and released on the beach. “EINN, TVEIR and PRIR” the children hold the pufflings aloft to get them flapping their wings, then release them.
Why I like this Book: While some of the illustrations are reminiscent of Betsy’s most famous work, “Click Clack Moo”, most are exquisite watercolor landscapes, seascapes and close-ups of these beautiful birds. Don’t you love the puffling lit up by the flashlight, above? The subtle artwork on every page, draws you into this northerly nation with its dependence on the sea, and especially invites you into this small community. One of the appeals for me was how involved the entire community is in caring for these birds, including the children, who are so often excluded from conservation projects. I would have loved to have been a member of the puffling patrol as a kid. I suspect that most children could not locate Iceland on a map, and any good book, such as this, that helps broaden children’s cross cultural awareness, is valuable.
There are excellent factual details about emigration, habitat, threats etc woven naturally into the body of the story. Additionaly there are three pages at the back on more puffin facts; one page on the 1973 earthquake; a page Vestmannaeylers’ puffins today and a glossary & pronunciation guide. This would be a great classroom resource as well as a good choice for kids who like a more factual narrative and enjoy more information. It would fit well into any teaching unit at school or home on: bird migration, animal conservation and island life. I enjoyed both the text and illustrations equally in this beautiful book.
NB All pictures used by kind permission of the publisher.
I would also like to add that the gorgeous new blog banner is by my talented friend, Sytiva Sheehan, whom I interviewed here.