PALE MALE, Citizen Hawk of New York City – Perfect Picture Book Friday

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red-tailed hawk – (c) 2012 drydenbks LLC

When I think about Big City animal life I think pigeons, rats, squirrels etc. Indeed my most unusual visitor in the apartment in Nice was a hedgehog who popped inside to say hello. I was thus surprised when a friend posted a photo on FB of a red-tailed hawk outside her apartment on the Upper West Side last week. The ensuing FB conversation showed that this visitor’s ancestor’s actually have a history in the city and several picture books have been written about the subject. I immediately browsed the catalogue in Brooklyn Library to learn more. I think children will enjoy as much as I do, discovering more about the fauna of New York City.

Pale Male – Citizen Hawk of New York City

Written by Janet Schulman, illustrated by Meilo So

Published by Alfred A Knopf, 2008

Genre: Picture Book, ‘animal biography’, 40 pages

Ages: 5+

Themes: New York City, red-tailed hawks, animal protection, Central Park

First Lines/Synopsis:

On crisp autumn day in 1991, a red-tailed hawk flew across the Hudson River from New Jersey. He flew over smokestacks, sky-scrapers, and ant-liek traffic to a rectangular oasis smack in the center of New York City. 

The story begins with a young red-tailed hawk flying across the river into Manhattan. He hovers over the beautiful autumnally bedecked park in the heart of the city, surrounded by apartment blocks, and makes a decision which will impact his life and give the New Yorkers a new hero.

We can’t be sure why this young hawk decided Central Park would be a great place to settle. Maybe he felt the lunch options (fat city pigeons and rats) were better than pickings outside the city! His arrival caused quite a stir among local ornithologists and he was soon named, garnering a group of enthusiastic human followers. Pale Male, of course, had little interest for the humans, but was quick to find himself a partner. Their first attempts to set up nest were failures and later, when his female was injured, he was fortunate enough to find another mate. Pale Male, who was clearly a classy hawk, began to build a nest on 927 Fifth Avenue. His nest was destroyed by the owner of the building, but the pair persevered with a little help from the Audubon Society and  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2004 saw the birth of the first three fluffy white chicks,  and over the years there were more until . . . the owners destroyed not only the nest, but the entire building spike structure Pale Male needed for his nests. Well, you’ll need to read the book to discover quite how this tale of urban survival ends.

Why I like this book:

This is a lengthy and mature text for more recent picture book preference, but I believe the lyricism of the prose, the flow and interest of the true story and the exquisite watercolor illustrations will mean it is a book that can captivate even young children. Seilo truly manages to capture the magic of these wild birds in an urban landscape. For me, a newcomer to Manhattan, she also manages to paint a strong sense of this borough and the contrasting beauty of Central Park. It’s also a story of environmentalist success, which I applaud. The only thing I didn’t appreciate was a political comment, which I felt inappropriate for a picture book, but it can be glossed over as the rest of the book is a vivid love story of perseverance both from the feathered pair and the New York fans.

I think the book is a great addition to any school topics focused on New York or urban animal life. I know that my next walk in Central Park will take on a very different dynamic.


– In the back of the book is a more detailed discussion of the author’s experience and thoughts about Pale Male and his descendants in New York.

– Take a walk in Central Park WITH binoculars. Do some bird watching. The Audubon Society would be able to provide a list of typical birds that can be spotted in Central Park.

PBS Introduction to Pale Male, with the possibility of buying their video.

– The official Pale Male website with some fabulous photos, video clips and archives:

– Eight picture books on Pale Male, all reviewed on GoodReads.

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19 Responses to PALE MALE, Citizen Hawk of New York City – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. Great pick, Joanna. Reminded me that E.B. White included a falcon in Stuart Little, back in 1945!

  2. Joanna says:

    Oo, you are right. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Fantastic sounding book, Joanna! New York City is so much the epitome of urban, that one forgets that there is wildlife (other than the ubiquitous rats, pigeons and squirrels that you mentioned) but of course, Central Park would have birds! (Insert head-thwacking “duh” here.) Thank you for introducing this book to us.

  4. Richa Jha says:

    For some strange reason, Joanna, this post wasn’t getting displayed at all earlier this morning. Tried accessing it a couple of times earlier, but only the images would show up (could very well have been the internet speed at my place since morning). Happy to see the review now, because the image of the red-tailed hawk has had me intrigued since 🙂 Thanks for sharing it here!

  5. What a fabulous find Joanna. It sound like a fascinating read with beautiful artwork. Like that it is based on a true story. I imagine you will find many more finds like this during your time in NYC.

  6. This is an interesting story of such an intelligent bird. Twice I have been in New York at around November and loved Central Park. Only very briefly saw a hawk (so it was pointed out to me). But my photos are mostly of squirrels. Enjoy the beautiful park.

    • Joanna says:

      I am right by Prospect Park in Brooklyn, too, which is wonderful. I need to keep a camera on me to capture some of the urban wildlife.

  7. Nice illustrations! Cool book! I read a newspaper article about hawks living in Philadelphia too (I think at the art museum). It is cool that they can live in a city!

  8. Joanna says:

    Erik, I guess it makes sense that there will be hawks in other cities too! I like the idea of taking up residence at the art museum!

  9. That is a magnificent bird and it’s wonderful to find a pb about a real story. Great find, Joanna.

  10. I love beautiful picture books based on true stories. I sure want to find out how the story ends. It sounds like a wonderful adventure. I realize it could end sadly…but I’m hoping not!
    I agree that ALL political statements should be left out of picture books. I’m sure it didn’t add a thing to the story!

  11. Joanna says:

    Penny, exactly, the political statement added nothing but a jarring, unnecessary personal bias. Apart from this, I loved the book.

  12. Rhythm says:

    I’m really excited to see this book! It looks like a beautiful one. We have a pair of hawks that nest across the river from us and visit us regularly. They are very loud and I always know when they’re coming. In spite of worrying about our chickens, we love having the hawks as neighbors. Thanks for sharing this book. I will be looking for a copy.

  13. Joanna…what a wonderful book! I will try to get a copy…I grew up in NYC…and went to Central Park with my parents all the time…I once got separated from my parents at the annual Easter egg rolling contest when I was 5 years old. 🙁 I didn’t know about the hawk…what fun! Sounds like a great story. 😉

  14. I grew up in the city and still get there from time to time and had heard the story of Pale Male, but I didn’t know he had a picture book! I can’t wait to find it and read it. I love the opening sentence – it sounds like the prose will indeed be lyrical. Thanks for sharing this book about something a little out of the ordinary 🙂

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