Knowing the Name of a Bird
Knowing the Name of a Bird
Knowing the Name of a Bird

Knowing the Name of a Bird

Jane Yolen (Author)

Jori van der Linde (Illustrator)

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This inquisitive, ornithological ode celebrates a love of birdsno matter what we call them and why.

Bank Street's Best Books of the Year 2021 Under Five List for Outstanding Merit. –Bank Street College of Education, 9/1/2021

Ages 6 - 10

Fiction, 32 pages, 2020

ISBN 978-1-56846-349-0

Reviews and Honors

Yolen’s text reads almost like a poem, spread across 32 pages, and all is about how we (as humans) have a limited capacity to truly understand the communication of birds — and how we often reduce birds by defining them with the names we use for them... Jori van der Linde, a Canadian artist, showcases these birds in all their glory via elegant, crisp, fine-lined illustrations.

–Jules Danielson, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog, 12/10/2020

This diverse new crop of children’s picture books celebrates family, friendship and the great outdoors in stories that range from Minnesota to West Africa. Children take on challenges of daily life, including learning to hike and camp, figuring out a new way to capture a runaway chicken, and adapting to a new baby in the home.... What’s in a name? Poet Jane Yolen explores the difference between what we call birds, and what birds are and do. A bird’s name, she points out, is not the same thing as an actual bird. A bird’s name is not the same thing as “the exact blue of its neck.” A bird’s name “tells you little about the build of its nest.” Jori van der Linde’s poster-like illustrations, worked in pen and Photoshop, are both realistic and stylized.

–Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune, 07/17/2020

What’s in a name? The characteristics of a bird cannot be conveyed by the names we give them—or by words in general. According to Yolen, birds are given both scientific and popular names, such as robin, hawk, peacock, or swan, but neither name captures anything about what the bird is really like. The individuality of a bird, such as its color, or more tactile qualities, such as “The dinosaur feet, / crooked and brown, / or the talons with / nails as hard as / an old man’s,” are not conveyed by the name we give it. A bird’s name can’t convey its movement in space or the drama of a peacock’s outspread tail or the nature of its flight or even if it flies at all. (Picture the emu or the ostrich.) A concluding quote from noted physicist Richard Feynman sums it up: “You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing about the bird.” The idea is interesting, and van der Linde’s illustrations are clean, clear, and attractive, but in exploring negation the text offers little for curious, concrete-thinking young readers. It’s thematically consistent but also maddening that the book doesn’t consistently identify the birds pictured. The closing note discusses recording bird song but then shrugs away the value of those recordings. An interesting thought experiment, but it doesn’t quite take off.

Kirkus, 06/16/2020

Educating children about the natural world means teaching them to identify flora and fauna, even though, as Jane Yolen notes in the picture book “Knowing the Name of a Bird” (Creative Editions, 32 pages, $18.99), living things are unaware of what we call them, or indeed that we label them at all. This idea will be no kind of bombshell for adults, but it may intrigue children ages 2-6, who are comparatively new to the varieties and use of language. “A bird’s name is not what it is, but what we call it: robin, hawk, peacock, swan,” Ms. Yolen writes, introducing the idea of both the caprice and the inadequacy of avian names. As she explains—and Jori van der Linde shows in appealing stylized artwork—a bird’s name may give no clue as to the color of its feathers, the shape of its nest or the pattern of its flight.This relativistic musing was inspired, we learn from an afterword, by the late physicist Richard Feynman, who observed that a person can know a bird’s name in every human language and yet know “absolutely nothing whatever about the bird.” Such knowledge, he believed, will be achieved only when we can understand what birds are saying when they communicate. Until then, we must be content with the names we give them and the enchantment of their song.

–Meghan Cox Gurdon, Wall Street Journal, 10/23/2020

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