Friday, March 2, 2012

Wisdom the Albatross - A Blog Tour

Today I'm helping to kick off a blog tour for Darci Pattison's newest book: Wisdom, the Midway Albatross: Surviving the Japanese Tsunami and Other Disasters for Over 60 Years.

Albatrosses are among the largest of flying birds, with wingspans up to 11 feet. When they eventually reach breeding age, females lay a single egg each year. And they live a long time. Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, is thought to be about 60 years old.

32 pages, ages 8 and up
Mims House, 2012
Over her lifetime Wisdom has survived tropical storms, predators, hurricanes, fishing, pollution and yearly migrations. Most recently she – and her chick – managed to survive the tsunami that washed across her rookery following last year’s devastating earthquake that hit Japan.

While Darcy Pattison was drawn to Wisdom’s story of survival, artist Kitty Harvill was drawn to her story because it highlights the need for conservation – of the 21 species of albatross, 19 are threatened with extinction. Or maybe it was the fact that when she saw the close-up photos of the albatross that she eventually painted as the cover, she fell in love with the bird.

Harvill is a painter. She uses oils and sometimes adds paper collage to her work. She also loves watercolors – and that’s what she used to paint the illustrations for Wisdom. She usually takes her own photos to serve as models for her paintings, but this project didn’t provide the opportunity for her to travel to Wisdom’s Midway Island rookery. So Harvill relied on photos from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Harvill’s brushwork brings albatross chicks to life, and her artistic skill gives each bird personality and expression that you might not expect in a sea bird. I particularly love the expression on Wisdom’s face as she studies the steel band that a scientist fastened around her leg. I asked Harvill how she captures such details.

“I’ve spent a good deal of time watching and sketching birds, and I’ve made several trips to the Bird Park at Iguassu Falls in Brazil,” she said. “I think the expressions must come from my attitude about the birds and all wildlife for that matter...that we are all connected, that each creature has as much right to be on this planet as we do, and that we are all involved in an intricate web of life. I truly love them as a family member on the planet that we share.”

That love infuses her paintings and brings them to life.

Harvill hopes her art will “wake people up” to environmental problems. One of those problems is plastic trash that floats into the ocean where it can strangle birds or get eaten. “The problem for albatrosses,” says Harvill, “ is that the parents unknowingly regurgitate the plastic they’ve eaten at sea into their chicks. Every year hundreds of chicks die because they are so full of plastic they literally starve to death.”  Fisherman can flag their longlines and hooks, but it’s going to take each one of us to reduce the plastic pollution. “We can be careful about what we buy and reuse and recycle,” Harvill says.
You can learn lots more about Wisdom and other albatrosses at Darcy’s “Wisdom” website where you’ll find videos, photos and some information about earthquakes and tsunamis. Check out other stops on the blog tour as well: Laurie Thompson later today, on March 9 at  Practically Paradise and March 14 at Simply Science.
 This review is part of the STEM Friday book round-up hosted today at NC Teacher Stuff . It's also part of the Nonfiction Monday book round-up, hosted on March 5 at 100 Scope Notes. A copy of the book was provided by the publisher.


  1. Hi Sue,
    It's so interesting to get the illustrator's side of the story. I think both elements--survival and conservation--really come through in the book. Thanks for a nice review and interview, and for the shoutout! :)

  2. I love real-life nature, survival and rescue stories. Thank you for sharing this one!