Posted by Rebecca G. Aguilar, M.Ed. on September 24, 2015
Spit & Sticks: A Chimney Full of Swifts
By Marilyn Grohoske Evans; Illustrated By Nicole Gsell
Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing
Publication date: 9/29/2015
A reader picks up a nonfiction picture book about birds. If she is a nature lover or bird enthusiast, her interest in the facts might compel her to read beyond the cover. What if interest were not the only way to immerse that bird enthusiast in a good book?
Author Marilyn Grohoske Evans uses her journalism chops to pen a hybrid kind of true story: Spit & Sticks: A Chimney Full of Swifts. This well-crafted nonfiction picture book from Charlesbridge employs research and storytelling that might appeal to all kinds of readers.
Centered on a migratory bird species that uses sticky spit as adhesive to build twig nests, the book combines informational text about a chimney swift pair waiting for a nesting brood to hatch with the wordless picture story of a Texas farm family expecting the arrival of a new baby.
Nicole Gsell collages touching watercolor illustrations to bind the book’s theme of humans and nature interacting in harmony. Images of the family working in the garden, assembling a new baby crib and sharing a picture book accompany those of the chimney swift pair diving across the sky, pasting small sticks together and taking turns fetching food.
Teachers, parents and librarians who ask for more diversity in picture books might also applaud Gsell’s depiction of a mixed-race family in Spit & Sticks. Though the father in the book seemingly transcends ethnicity—conceivably American Indian, Mexican American or African American—the publisher receives credit for inclusivity when imagining a rural family in Texas.
Perfect for reading aloud, Grohoske Evans’ story tracks the turn of the seasons as both human and bird families prepare for the changes ahead.
“Days grow colder. Gusty winds soon strip the trees of their leaves and pound the pond’s flying insects. The feathered family finds food scarce. Is it time to seek warmer land?
“A rooster crows. Daylight dawns. A low rumble rouses every creature. Lightning flashes. The birds swarm into the sky. It is time.”
Inspired by her father’s stories, Grohoske Evans writes in the back matter interesting details she researched about the chimney swift. Once known as the American swift, this bird roosted in hollow trees but adapted to habitat decline by building nests in the masonry chimneys of houses like the one in the book. The bird would naturally be given the new moniker—chimney swift.
Grohoske Evans shows some birding bonafides and even recommends online instructions at the Chimney Swift Conservation Association on how to build a chimney swift nesting tower.
Spit & Sticks is a worthwhile read certain to spur young bird enthusiasts to learn more and take action to help protect the remarkable chimney swift.
Marilyn Grohoske Evans has a journalism and public relations background and has published educational books for children and for school literacy programs.
Nicole Gsell is a graduate of Rhode Island School and Design and is also the illustrator of the independently published book The Tremendous Pagoda Tree.
Charlesbridge publishes high-quality books of fiction and nonfiction for children with the goal of creating lifelong readers and lifelong learners.
Category: Nature, Birds