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Salem-Liberty students help with birding book

March 15, 2008
By Kate York,
LOWER SALEM—More than two years ago, when Bird Watcher’s Digest editor Bill Thompson III began working with a class of Salem-Liberty students on a bird guide, Abbey Tornes said she wasn’t exactly thrilled.

“I thought it would be boring,” said Tornes, now 12 and in the sixth grade. “I didn’t like birds.”

But by Friday, when the work that began in fourth grade for the class could be seen completed in a colorful, finished bird guide published by Houghton-Mifflin, Tornes and her classmates were singing — or chirping— a different tune.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Tyson Niceswanger, 11. “We learned how a book comes together and all about different kinds of birds. It’s been awesome.”

The students’ names are in the back of the book, photos of them in the front and their ideas stamped across nearly every page of the “The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of Eastern North America.”

“They were like a mini-focus group,” said Thompson, whose daughter Phoebe, 11, is in the class. “It was their idea to make it small enough to fit in their hands, they helped pick the images used and would tell me what they did or didn’t like or what was too babyish.”

Thompson said he wanted to create a bird guide for a target audience of eight to 12 year-olds that was a little different from what’s already on the market.

“They had just turned eight when they started this and that’s the age when kids start to read chapter books,” he said. “So many nature books have very little text but huge pictures—it’s all eye candy. These kids were really starting to read and they wanted stories. That gave me the foundation.”

The sixth-graders had seen a rough draft of the book but Friday was their first glimpse of the finished product, which they all got a copy of.

The book will hit stores within the next month including at Sugden Book Store in Marietta and advance sales have been strong, said Thompson.

“I’m glad it was colorful,” said Dana Moss, 12. “I think it will get kids’ attention.”

Moss said he’s been anxious to show all he’s learned about birds with his family as soon as the book was published.

“My mom didn’t know there was more than one type of finch and she likes them,” he said. “I told her that once the we got the book, I could show her.”

Unlike sometimes-cumbersome bird guides meant for adults, this guide focuses on just 200 of the most common or “outstandingly unusual” birds, said Thompson.

“I really hope it will tweak their interest just a little bit and address this whole trend of nature deficit disorder in kids,” he said, referring to children spending more time indoors with computers and video games than outside playing. “My interest in birds started when I was a kid in Iowa and saw a snowy owl in my front yard. I looked it up in our ancient, tiny bird guide that we had and that’s how it began.”

The students’ enthusiasm for the project grew as they learned and participated more, said Thompson, who also used a globe Friday to show the students where their work had traveled during the publishing process, including all the way to Hong Kong.

“For the last year and a half they’ve been constantly asking me when the book was going to be done,” Thompson said. “They’d be leaning out the school bus window, asking me. They got really involved in it as we went along.”

But one of the students, who grew up with a background in birds, knew something the others didn’t.

“I knew all along that it was going to be fun,” said Phoebe Thompson. “And it really was.”

Article Photos

MITCH CASEY The Marietta Times
Bill Thompson III distributes just-published copies of “The Young Birder's Guide” to sixth-grade students at Salem-Liberty Elementary School Friday. Thompson, of Bird Watcher's Digest, authored the book with the students' help, culminating a two-year publishing
project .



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