Reviews

Are You Smarter Than a Third Grader?

JILL MANDRAKE

According to the copyright page of A Mad Bird’s Life: A Division 6 Picture Guide to Canada’s Coolest Provincial Birds & Trees (Writers’ Exchange), “This book was created by Division 6, Mrs. Mehnert’s grade 3 class, at Thunderbird Elementary in the winter of 214.” It’s both illuminating and delightful to read how primary school children view our biosphere. In this chapbook, each student-writer focussed on a particular bird or tree and produced a page of illustrated text about it. The chosen trees have a colourful array of names: Red Spruce, White Spruce, Black Spruce, Red Oak, White Birch and Eastern White Pine. A student called Joanna wrote this haiku-like tribute to the White Spruce:

I’m a large tree with a narrow topMy needles go in a spiral around the twig

The needles smell really bad when they’re

Curiously, the tree most written about was the Tamarack (as student Ivan wrote, “its name is an Algonquin word/for the wood used for snowshoes”). In the bird department, the two hottest items were the chickadee and the gyrfalcon. I imagine the chickadee is popular because its birdsong is so pervasive. The gyrfalcon, meanwhile, is impressive because of its outright strength: it’s been known to take down a grey heron. A student called Jason wrote a poetic tribute to the gyrfalcon, part of which goes like this:

I’m the largest falcon in the worldI like to eat ptarmiganI sometimes take baths in freezing water

A Mad Bird’s Life is one of a series of writing projects for inner-city kids, sponsored by The Writers’ Exchange. To learn more, check out their website at vancouverWE.com.

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JILL MANDRAKE

Jill Mandrake writes strange but true stories and leads Sister DJ’s Radio Band, featuring rhythm and blues covers, post-vaudeville original tunes and occasional comedy bits. She lives in Vancouver.


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