Thursday, February 25, 2010

Burgess Bird Book for Children

Little & Brown published the Burgess Bird Book for Children in October 1919. Burgess had run the individual stories comprising it earlier that year as part of his Bedtime Stories newspaper series, but these were written with the final work in mind.

Here is the full text. (Although the book is in the public domain, it is still being sold today thus Google Books does not offer an embeddable copy).

It was Burgess's first real natural history book, with realistic illustrations by the greatest bird artist of the era, Louis Agassiz Fuertes. (Cady, while a great illustrator, was not a naturalist--note that he depicts Yank Yank as a red-breasted nuthatch, not a white-breasted nuthatch, above).

Burgess's friend, William Hornaday, wrote a stunningly positive review. (I think Hornaday was the original inspiration for the project but I need to re-find the citation).

The book was a great success and inspired a series of similar books focused on animals, flowers, and the seashore.

This was a book intended for younger readers. Burgess decided he wouldn't present facts about birds directly. Instead he would present the facts in the form of dialogues between Peter Rabbit (the stand-in for the curious child) and a variety of appropriate interlocutors, particularly Jenny Wren. Burgess would use this dialogue mode of presentation for his other natural history books and it would serve him well when he moved to radio in the 1920s.

[UPDATE: Burgess would publish a bird guide more suitable for adults in 1933, titled Birds You Should Know. This pre-dated Roger Tory Peterson's revolutionary field guide by one year.]

Next post: The Birds of the Radio Nature League

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