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Monday, October 10, 2016

Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World's Brightest Bird, by Pamela S. Turner with photographs by Andy Comins and art by Guido De Filippo. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2016. $25.99 ages 10 and up

"Whatever you think of the voices of crows, scientists classify them as members of the songbird family. Yes, that's right: crows are songsters. Just think of them as heavy metal guitarists rather than classical violinists."

I have a love/hate relationship with crows. I love that I have learned through reading and documentary watching how incredibly brilliant they truly are. I hate their raucous early wake-up calls! A family lives in a tree across the lane, and their babies are the noisiest, most  persistent 'children' I have ever heard.

I do tend to read about this bird whenever I have a chance. As you know from reading previous posts (if you have indeed read them) than I am consistently impressed with Houghton Mifflin's Scientist in the Field series. The research, the photography, the design are impeccable and I have recommended them many times for older readers, including adults. So, I came to this new edition with high hopes. I have never been disappointed!

The setting is New Caledonia. The purpose is to work with the scientists who carefully study these evil-looking masterminds of the avian world. Pamela Turner and Andy Comins do another wonderful job of eking out the most pertinent of the information collected and making it relevant and educational, while keeping a very conversational tone; thus, making reading most enjoyable as well. Their first collaboration, The Frog Scientist in 2009 was equally compelling. If you haven't read it, you should check it out from the library.

Dr. Gavin Hunt is their guide, taking them to the field and letting them see first-hand the crows' unique facility with materials that are new to them. While other animals make and use different kinds of tools, only crows and humans can make hooked tools. That is pretty darned amazing, isn't it? The clear and engaging photographs will surprise, the many additional sketches drawn by researcher and illustrator Guido De Filippo add further understanding, and the text easy to follow. We actually meet specific crows and see them as they work diligently to solve problems presented. And, we can watch as some research crows are returned to the beauty of their island world.

If I were to watch the crows in my neighborhood closely enough, I might see them playing catch with found objects, and learn that those little ones who drive me crazy so early in the morning are part of a family whose parents mate for life and whose older siblings help they grow and prosper. I would learn that they are like me when it comes to eating habits - they will eat anything. You've seen them on the highway scavenging, right? Did you know they go for the eyeball first?

Well, you have a lot to learn.

In the event that I have really piqued your interest, please watch this brilliant documentary.

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