Moonbird: A Year On the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2012. Review copy from publisher. Finalist for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award. Edited to add: Sibert Honor.
It’s About: B95 is a rufa red knot, first tagged in Argentina in 1995. Since then, B95 has been seen again and again, not just in Argentina, but along the varied places in the migratory cycle of a rufa red knot: Argentina, the Delaware Bay, Canada. Moonbird (a nickname for B95) uses the life and journey of one small bird to show the intricate life of this small shorebird, as well as bigger lessons about ecology, interdependence and extinction.
The Good: As you may remember from my review of Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, I am not an animal person. For readers who are animal people, Moonbird is an easy fit and recommendation. Nature lovers will love it. It also shows, from the many scientists and volunteers who appear in the book, the various career and vocational paths for those who love animals. I already know who I’ll be recommending this book to.
The good thing about being a non-animal lover reading a book like this is I don’t get swept away by the topic. See, in nonfiction, I have to be vigilant and aware to make sure that my liking a topic or subject matter doesn’t influence what I think about the actual book. What is it about Moonbird that made it a finalists for the YALSA Award of Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, an award to “recognize the best in the field of nonfiction books (at this time, only books will be considered for the award) materials for young adults,” and it must include “excellent writing, research, presentation and readability for young adults.”
Most of Moonbird is about the year-long migratory cycle that the rufa red knots make. Woven in is deeper information, from the process of banding birds (how the birds are captured, the color-coding different countries have used since 2003) to the relatively recent discovery that the Delaware Bay is one of the stops on that path. This is a part of New Jersey culture I didn’t know about, not at all! I love how Moonbird doesn’t just present facts and figures; it explains how that knowledge was gained. It’s not just the findings of scientists, it’s also the work of scientists, which is always ongoing.
The number of rufa red knots have dropped since B95 was first seen. Part of that has to do with their journey. The book starts with Argentina, where B95 was first tagged, and the food sources that the shorebirds pursue, moving on in a set pattern to best take advantage of the ideal food sources and temperature. If something happens to one part of that intricate chain, it affects all, which is why the threat of extinction now exists for a bird that was plentiful just a couple of decades ago. When I went looking for more information, I found A Red-Knot Celebrity Is Back in Town from The New York Times, dated this past May! B95 survives.
For how much longer, though? B95 is the perfect bird to use to illustrate the dangers of extinction, the intricacy of the earth’s resources and how different organisms and animals rely on each other and are interdependent.
I can easily see why Moonbird is a finalist. For “readability,” it combines narrative and information seamlessly. The research is explained in the Appendix and Source Notes, as well as the author’s own knowledge and experiences with rufa red knots. While this is about a shorebird, I also see it as inspiration — not just “what you can do” in terms of the rufa red knot as Moonbird spells out in the Appendix, but in what a teenager who loves science can do in terms of a career. Isn’t “best” about that type of inspiration? And while I personally am more a history nonfiction reader, I love that there are such terrific science nonfiction books for readers!