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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Kakapo Rescue, written by Sy Montgomery with photographs by Nic Bishop. Houghton, T Allen. 2010. $22.50 ages 10 and up

"But worst of all for the flightless kakapo was the arrival of Europeans after 1769. These new immigrants didn't only hunt kakapo for food. They did something even more destructive: they began to stock New Zealand's islands with all kinds of animals that didn't belong there. Each new ship was a virtual Noah's Ark filled with a flightless vegetarian bird's worst nightmares."

Sy Montgomery's writing for children began:

"Nic and I met at a nature writing conference at Boston's New England Aquarium in the mid 1990s where I was a speaker. After my talk, Nic approached me, explained he was a wildlife photographer specializing in books for children, and asked if I might be interested in working with him. He could have been an ax murderer for all I knew. But I gave him my address anyway. I had already made a point of writing for young readers—I contributed to magazines like Ranger Rick and Cobblestone - and as a conservationist, I realized that children are the most important readership a writer can reach. So I was thrilled with Nic's idea and awaited his photos to see if he was any good.

When they arrived in the mail—WOW. His were some of the most fantastic wildlife photographs I have ever seen in my life. Nic specializes in photographing small animals like frogs, spiders and insects. His photos capture the majesty, the dignity, the individuality, and especially the vivid, other-worldly lives of these little creatures.

From the moment I set eyes on them, I knew what we should do: create a line of nonfiction adventure books for kids that told, with equal parts photos and text, true stories about passionate people whose love of wild animals leads them to solve scientific mysteries and to dedicate their lives to protecting these animals and their homes. Expanded to include other authors and highlight researchers in additional fields of science, our idea became Houghton Mifflin's Scientists in the Field series."

Lucky we are that we benefit so enormously from that serendipitous meeting. Sy has visited snakes in Manitoba, bears in Southeast Asia, dolphins in the Amazon, tarantulas in South America, tigers in India and Bangladesh and snow leopards in Mongolia...and I may have missed some. In this remarkable book, she and Nic Bishop head out to Codfish Island, off the coast of New Zealand to see what they can discover, and subsequently share, about the kakapo, the world's strangest parrot.

As is usual, she joins an expedition of scientists in the field who seek information about the gentle, large and flightless kakapo. There are only eighty seven in the world and they live on two small islands there. They are strange birds, and green. Their color is their protection on the forest floor. They only come out at night and they have a honey smell. It was that smell that targeted them for near destruction when humans brought new animal species to New Zealand.

Their protection is tantamount, as there are so few left. Codfish Island is controlled and tourists are not allowed. Researchers and scientists must disinfect themselves and everything they bring to the island to keep them viable. Scientists are trying to encourage breeding, but they know little about the ways of the bird and must work patiently to learn more.

Once again, Sy's personal perspective brings life and concern for these strange birds, making sure that there are quick facts and short stories in sidebars and inserts along the way. A small team does all it can to save this peculiar and extraordinary species...using warming blankets for the babies when the mothers go in search of food, recording each and every one to showcase their own individual and unique personalities. That work is captured in words and photos so that we may share their story, and work to protect them as best we can. Nic Bishop captures amazing images of their environment, the scientific team and the beguiling creatures they have all come to love.

Meet Lisa:

"It's hours past midnight. You'd think any self-respecting parrot would be asleep. But not Lisa.
No, despite the late hour, this huge, soft, moss-green bird, looking somewhat like a parakeet who has eaten once side of the mushroom in Alice in Wonderland and grown into an eight-pound giant, decides it is a great time to waddle out of her nest - a nest that's not in a tree, like a normal parrot's, but underground."

Now, who doesn't want to know more about Lisa?

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