Bartholomew Quill: A Crow's Quest to Know Who's Who
by Thor Hanson, illustrated by Dana Arnim
published by Sasquatch Books
Bartholomew Quill was a crow long ago,
when all of the world was new.
When he bears and the bees
and the hares and the trees
were all learning to tell which was who.
Thus starts this book by acclaimed biologist Thor Hanson,which takes us on a lyrical journey back in time when our dear protagonist, Bartholomew Quill, the crow, wants to know who he is.
He flies around encountering various animals and compares features to see if he is one of them. At the edge of the ocean, he sees black birds like himself and asks if he is one of them. The bird answers:
I dive and I float in a waterproof coat
My diet is fish and crustacean.
We are both black and sleek, but you lack a bright beak,
so you cannot be my close relation.
And from the lovely illustrations by Dana Arnim, we know this is a puffin, not a crow.
As our Bartholomew encounters other creatures, he quickly realizes he cannot be one of them, until he sees someone very much like himself, only much bigger - the Raven.
Finally, he looks in nature's mirror - the still lake - as he flies over it and realizes he is a crow.
The ability of many species to recognize their own must have evolved somehow, but this story is set when the world was new, so, possibly Bartholomew has not yet developed self-recognition/other-recognition.
One question that cropped up with the resident 7 year old is, at each stage, without introduction or explanation, how does Bartholomew know what that creature is that is different from himself. For example, after encountering the creature that soars and catches fish all day and has sharp eyes and pale head and tail feathers, we simply read that "Bartholomew thanked the bald eagle," which the young readers deduce from the illustrations but may be puzzled as to how Bartholomew arrived at that conclusion.
Back of the book has a "Get More Out of This Book" section that has some interesting suggestions.
Biologist Thor Hanson is renowned for his adult books about nature -- The Impenetrable Forest, The Triumph of Seeds, and Feathers. He won a PNBA Award and The John Burroughs Medal for Feathers, which was also a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Hanson is a Guggenheim Fellow, a Switzer Environmental Fellow, and sought-after public speaker.
Illustrator Dana Arnim has a Certificate in Art from the Children’s Market from UW Extension and serves as Co-regional Advisor for the Western Washington SCBWI.
[Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book. The opinions shared here are entirely mine.]