Friday, September 23, 2016
Crow Smarts & author interview
by Pamela S. Turner; photos by Andy Comins
80 pages; ages 10 - 12
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
"Is a crow smarter than a second grader?" That's the question this book opens with - and the answer is a resounding "yes". But you might not recognize crow intelligence unless you know what you're looking for. They don't write essays or take multiple choice tests. What they do is solve problems.
In this book, author Pamela Turner spends time with scientists studying New Caledonian crows. In the wild, these birds fashion tools to spear their food. One chapter focuses on how a juvenile crow learns tool-making from his parents and by trial-and-error. She devotes an entire chapter to tool-making and another to the challenges that scientists presented to the birds including problems that required multiple steps to solve. You can see New Caledonian crows solving problems here, and at Turner's website.
What I love about this book - about Turner's nonfiction in general - is that it is fun to read! She takes you into the jungle with the scientists, and shares the logic crows use to puzzle out solutions. There are maps and sidebars and an "ask the author" section at the end.
I just had to "ask the author" Three Questions, which Pamela graciously answered.
Archimedes: What inspired you to write about crow intelligence?
Pamela: For the past 12 years I've been a volunteer at Lindsay Wildlife Hospital in Walnut Creek, California. The first time I saw a baby crow, someone was syringe-feeding into its gaping mouth. Crow babies make a funny high-pitched sound when you feed them. Also, they are very interactive and play with their food and other things. Eventually I became a crow and raven specialist and even brought baby crows home to raise in my own house. When I was writing the book about tool-using dolphins, I'd collected lots of information about crows... so I thought I'd do a book focusing on the crows.
Archimedes: What sort of research did you do?
Pamela: I read articles and books, and then went into the field with the scientists. I spent five days in a blind! Part of the research was in the forest and part was in the aviary, One of the reasons I got excited about this project is the connection between tool use and language. When scientists look at brain scans, the parts of the brain that light up when making stone tools are the same as language centers.
Archimedes: What do you love best about writing for kids?
Pamela: Delving into a subject I'm excited about and sharing it. With science it's all about going out with the scientists into the field. With biographies, it's interesting to see how someone's early childhood experiences got them started or helped to mold their lives. For example, Tyrone Hayes loved frogs as a kid. He didn't know you could study frogs for a living, yet he followed his passion and became "the frog scientist".
Find out more about Pamela and her books over at her website. Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copy provided by publisher