|A Brief Review of
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
My mom is a bird-lover and she taught me to love birds at a young age, and now living in the city, birds are one of the more pleasant wild creatures that I encounter on a daily basis. And not surprisingly, I have developed an affinity over the years for books about birds. So, I was of course delighted when a review copy of the new book Winged Wonders: A Celebration of Birds in Human History arrived in my mailbox. This volume, authored by two birders, Peter Watkins and Jonathan Stockland, offers its readers a rich, folksy bird-focused miscellany, presented in brief, narrative snippets that could easily be read aloud in one sitting, even with the youngest of children. Winged Wonders is nicely organized with almost all of its nineteen chapters focused on a specific type of bird (ordered alphabetically from “The Cock” through “The Wren.” In addition, there are three general chapters that are tacked onto the end of the book, that explore the state birds of the United States, the history of illustrating birds and birdsongs. There is much here that will be familiar to seasoned birders: poetry, anecdotes about behavior, even Scripture (It seems that every biblical passage related to the types of birds selected for this volume has been included from Peter denying Christ three times before the cock crows to Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 10 that God will take care of us just as God takes care of the sparrow). However, there also were some more obscure portions that might pique the intrigue of the veteran birder. For me, one such passage was the chapter on the history of bird illustration; some of the artists named there (e.g., John James Audubon) were familiar but the authors do a superb job of weaving a history that provides some context for understanding the work of some of these great nature artists and their methods – they explain, for instance, that before the dawn of photography, taxidermy was an essential practice in bird illustration. I also enjoyed the book’s exploration of why certain birds, including the dove and the pelican, have become important symbols of the Christian faith through the history of the church.
Winged Wonders is a delightful little volume, full of wisdom and wonder, a perfect book to be enjoyed by oneself or with others. Its narrative style and the brevity of its segments make it the perfect read aloud book for families interested in birding or naturalism.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com