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Reviewed by Kimberley Nielsen, Librarian, Kamo Primary School, Northland
Opening sentence
Captain James Cook famously commented on the beauty of the bellbird’s voice, describing it as being ‘like small bells most exquisitely tuned.
Note: this book was originally published in 2019 by Reed New Holland. The copy I am reviewing was published in 2023 by White Cloud Books, an imprint of Upstart Press.

'A First Book of New Zealand Backyard Bird Songs' is a board book that also contains a panel of buttons which, when pressed, play a 10-second clip of each of the 12 birds mentioned in the book. The birds profiled include a mixture of birds that students will be familiar with (e.g. tūī, fantail, song thrush) and others that, depending on where in Aotearoa New Zealand they live, might be new to them (kākā, grey warbler, bellbird, etc). I was disappointed to see that the picture of the tūī on the soundboard is missing its distinctive white neck feather.

Bird names are in both English and te reo Māori, with each bird getting its own 2-page spread. There is no introduction or conclusion to the book, instead there is a collection of bullet points with information about the bird that is being profiled on that page – where that bird lives, what it eats, what colour it is, etc. Photographs of each bird in various locations and poses supplement the text.

My main criticism of this book is that it's confused about its demographic. The simple cover design, title “A first book of….”, as well as being an A5-sized board book, suggests it’s made for preschoolers. While younger children will love pushing the buttons, hearing each bird’s song, and looking at the beautiful photographs of each bird; the text is small and dense, and the language used is too complex for them. Older students who have the reading ability and comprehension to appreciate this book and the information it contains may not pick it up, mistakenly believing that it’s for younger readers. That being said, a book that plays bird sounds will be a huge hit in any school library.
Publisher: Upstart Press
ISBN: 9781990003899
Format: Board book with sound
Publication: Apr 2023
Ages: 8-12
Themes: Aotearoa, nature, wildlife