Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore's Parrots over Puerto Rico
Book review by Emily Rose Aguiló-Pérez
Puerto Rican parrots have been described as one of the ten most endangered birds in the world.
Once abundant, Puerto Rican parrots (Amazonian vittata) were on the verge of extinction as the island became more populated through the years.
Parrots Over Puerto Rico offers a historical account of Puerto Rico's civilization weaved into a story about the island's parrots. Through colorful mixed-media illustrations, the reader is in for a journey through Puerto Rico's rainforests and the rise - and almost end - of the Puerto Rican parrot. Review continues.
Summary - Parrots over Puerto Rico
This is the story of the Puerto Rican parrots, which lived on the island for millions of years and almost became extinct.
Humans inhabited the island, first named Boriquén, for the first time around 5000 BC, planting grains and vegetables, and using the parrots as food and pets. As the land became more inhabited - including the European invasion in 1493, the later transportation of slaves from Africa, the colonization by the U.S., and the development of farming and housing - so began and continued the decline in the parrots' population.
By 1967 there were only 24 parrots living in the rainforest.
Thus began the efforts of the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program, whose goal was to save and protect parrots by creating an aviary and teaching the birds basic social behaviors.
By the 1970s the number of parrots decreased to 13, so the efforts to save and protect them increased. The story ends in 2006, when 22 captive-bred parrots were released, found partners and nesting boxes, and raised their chicks.
Dozens of parrots have been released since then.
These efforts have marked an increase in births in captivity. More importantly, while not included in the book, thanks to the efforts of the recovery program, two Puerto Rican parrots were born in the wild in August 2014 (after the book was published).
Parrots over Puerto Rico is an informational book that provides facts about the Puerto Rican parrot in many forms - through story, through a glossary of terms, through an informational afterword.
While conveying the threat human populations pose to wildlife, it does so without patronizing the reader or making the reader feel like they are receiving a lecture on morals.
The story of the Puerto Rican parrot cannot be told without telling the history of Puerto Rico. The authors explain that "the history of the parrots is closely linked to the history of Puerto Rico," as the parrots' number began to decrease as more people began inhabiting the island and cutting more trees for logging and farming.
Each page begins with a paragraph that tells the story of the parrots - what they were going through at each point in history - continuing with a narration of the historical event taking place. The cry of the parrots, Iguaca! Iguaca!, gives notice that a new event (an interaction that would further endanger them) is about to happen.
To provide further and more complete information to the reader, the authors include a short glossary at the bottom of each page. It presents one or more words that appear in the page's text (either in Spanish or in the native Taíno language) and their pronunciation.
Additionally, an extensive afterword describes the parrot's recovery and provides a vast number of photographs.
A particular aspect that I enjoyed about this book is that it defies conventions by asking the reader to hold and turn the pages vertically, rather than the traditional horizontal format. It invites the reader to move their eyes from top to bottom, beginning with a significant artwork and ending with the information presented at the bottom of the page. The back cover has a fun detail: a parrot is "flying away" with the barcode.
Paper and fabric collage illustrations depict the beautiful patterns in each of the parrots. A great example is on a page that shows a lineup of the parrots, their backs to the reader, and each has a different pattern in the feathers. This is a level of detail that shows dedication and care for the product being presented.
With an engaging story and colorful illustrations Parrots Over Puerto Rico invites readers to understand the remarkable recovery works that have allowed Puerto Rican parrots to fly over the island's blue skies once again.
Awards: 2014 Américas Award winner and 2014 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal winner
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