Ostrich and Lark – Perfect Picture Book Friday

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I picked up this book for two reasons: I am busy revising a picture book about adoption, set in Botswana, a nation I know and love; a land also inhabited by Ostrich and Lark. Secondly,  I was intrigued that the illustrations in this story are by San artists. While I didn’t meet any bushmen in Botswana, I did meet some Kalahari San while I was working in Namibia, and was able to visit some of their ancestors’ rock paintings. This book is a rain shower of sensorial delight.

ostTitle: Ostrich and Lark

Written by Marilyn Nelson

Illustrated by San Artists of the Kuru Art Project of Botswana

Published by Boyds Mills Press, 2012

Ages: 4-8

Themes: Botswana, birds, unique voice, lark, ostrich, unlikely friendships, San art

Opening lines:

Ostrich and Lark started each morning together at first light, day in and day out. And they parted at nightfall.


Ostrich and Lark pass their time on the veldt of southern Africa. They are sweet companions who search for food together all the while accompanied by a chorus of African birdsong (hornbill, diederik, mousebird and many more). Daily, perched high in a tree, Lark adds his own  song. His is the first warble of the day and he joins the bird chorus from his branch, while below on the ground, Ostrich remains silent. Then comes one special evening as dusk falls, when Ostrich finally finds his unique voice. The story has the feel of a traditional African folktale told in pictorial poetic prose, and is beautifully married to warm, vivid illustrations inspired by the ancient rock paintings of the San people’s ancestors.

Why I like this book:

This picture book is about an unlikely friendship both between Ostrich and Lark, and between the African American poet Marilyn Nelson and the San artists of Botswana. To my interpretation, it is how friendship and collaboration can inspire creativity and confidence. Ostrich takes more than half the book to work up the courage to utter anything, but when he does, it is beautiful, authentic and powerful. The story came about through a chance encounter Nelson had with the artists when she travelled to Botswana and the author’s proceeds from this book will be used to support the San artists of the Kuru Art Project in Botswana. The San bushmen were the first people of Southern Africa and their rock paintings are amazing documentation of their history. They are a native people who, like so many, find their culture and lifestyles threatened, so I am thrilled to see a book that not only brings the magical veldt and its wildlife to a western audience, but will also feed back into their artistic community. I found myself reminiscing of waking on very, very cold desert mornings in Namibia, while camping in fry riverbeds,  to birdsong. I would love to show you more of the exquisite artwork, but you will just have to buy the book yourself.


I would have students choose one of the birds mentioned in the story and try and paint in this San style.

I also wrote a poem here, on my time in the Namib.


Example of San Rock Paintings

Example of San Rock Paintings

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

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22 Responses to Ostrich and Lark – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. Wow, I really like this wonderful piece of folklore about two unlikely friends. There seem to be several themes/messages in the book. The artwork sounds beautiful. Your activity suggestion is good challenge for kids. I like that Nelson is donating proceeds to the art project.

  2. Leave it to Boyds Mill to find a great book like this one. Thank-you for reviewing it here. I can’t wait to explore it further.

  3. The beautiful cover would lure me in, even without the wonderful message in the text. I want to see, and read more!

  4. I’ll have to read this to see if the lark is anything like the meadow lark here – love it’s song!

  5. Joanna says:

    I am thinking that the in Southern Africa has a beautiful voice and is chosen for its contrast to the ostrich whose voice, while unique isn’t exactly melodious!

  6. Cathy Mealey says:

    Love this: a rain shower of sensorial delight!

    Aren’t the best friendships the unlikely ones? 🙂

  7. Joanna says:

    That is so often true, Cathy. I love stories of unusual friendships. Here I am glad Ostrich isn’t overwhelmed by Lark’s beautiful voice and perseveres to find his own.

  8. Rhythm says:

    I, too, was taken in by your description — a rain shower of sensorial delight! Wow! Sounds good to me! I’ll have to check this out! Thanks for sharing.

  9. It sounds fantastic, Joanna and your poem is amazing! A lot of thought went into it.

  10. What a beautiful story, Joanna. I’m not surprised Boyds Mills Press published it. I guess it takes all of us awhile to find our authentic voice.

  11. Joanna says:

    Like your thoughts, Kirsten. I am still discovering mine. And, yes, great publisher!

  12. I find your background and experience as fascinating as this book sounds! I’ll bet your adoption story is unique and will get a lot of interest from agents/editors.

  13. When I saw the title, I was hoping it was about an unlikely friendship! And what an appealing cover.

    Your poem is wonderful. You have a gift to create beautiful images with your words.

  14. Hannah Holt says:

    I hope your revisions are going well. A story about adoption in Botswana sounds interesting. From the cover the illustrations of Ostrich and Lark look bright and unique. Thanks for sharing a little more about the San bushmen, too.

  15. Joanna says:

    What a wonderful opportunity for Marilyn to collaborate with these artists!

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