It was 7 in the evening when I got a phone call from a friend. ‘Elena, my son has had his head buried in the book since midday! He has a question about the Coot. Can you help?’ Awesome, I thought, it’s happening! The book is out there, it’s in homes, and more importantly, it’s getting kids hooked. Awesome indeed!
Putting together a bird guide for children was not an easy business. All the usual design frustrations and printing dilemmas were just the tip of the iceberg – the real challenge was being able to re-imagine things that we know so well from a child’s point of view. But how else could we hope to reach their young hearts?
The resulting book – ‘What’s that bird? A bird guide for young explorers’ – is one of the many actions we have been taking to inspire the younger generations about the natural world around us. Within its beautifully illustrated pages, sixty-three amazing birds of Cyprus (and their habitats) are now waiting to be discovered, explored and treasured.
We launched the bird guide on a sunny morning at Athalassa Park in Nicosia, with families joining us for birdwatching and a ringing demonstration. Memories of writers’ block and looming deadlines evaporated into thin air the moment we saw the children’s faces light up with excitement and curiosity as they picked up the book. There was magic in watching the children eagerly flip through the pages and raise their little hands to shout out ‘Blackcap!’ in correct identification of the bird in the hand. ‘Yes! But look at the cap. Is it a male or a female?’ ‘Female!’ ‘Excellent! And now that we have ringed it, who will help us release it back to nature?’
It’s moments like this when you feel that all is right with the world. But sometimes, and alas more often than not, in this beautiful island we call home, it’s not. Illegal bird killing and trapping are at very high levels. Every year, around 2 million birds are illegally killed here. This illegal, non-selective and cruel practice has become so ingrained into our culture, that shaking it off seems almost impossible, especially when it’s still lingering in some people’s minds under the guise of ‘tradition’. The fantastic response we’ve had to this very special bird guide however reminds us to focus on the ‘almost’. After all, today’s young explorers will build tomorrow’s new traditions.
The book has been making its way into the homes of children, scouts, students, educators, and even other adults who simply could not resist the call of the young explorer inside. The other day one parent told us that her five-year-old son is totally obsessed with the book and spent hours showing her all the pictures one by one. And he can’t even read yet!
‘What’s that bird? A bird guide for young explorers’ was possible thanks to the support of Oak Foundation. The bird illustrations were done by wildlife artist Paschalis Dougalis whom we thank for his wonderful work.