In the spring of 2008 when I walked into Salem-Liberty Elementary School, and into daughter Phoebe's 6th grade classroom, it was the highlight of my professional career. That was the day that I handed all the 6th graders their own copies of The Young Birder's Guide to Birds of Eastern North America—a book they'd helped me create over the previous two years.
I felt such pride because the book had been a true collaboration. The kids really helped me to get the content, design, and format just right. I was also proud because I knew the book would help aspiring young birders to enjoy bird watching—to connect with the feathered part of the natural world in a meaningful way. It's the book I wish I'd had when I first noticed birds in 1968. And my hopes for the book were realized. Since it came out in early 2008, many thousands of copies have made their way into the hands of young birders (and into the hands of new birders of all ages, too). I've given talks to and led walks for young bird watchers all over the eastern half of North America.
Yesterday I got to repeat this very special event when I took son Liam's classmates their copies of the The Young Birder's Guide to Birds of North America, which they helped me create. The new book, which I've blogged about before, was created by expanding the eastern guide, and adding 100+ western species, to cover all of North America. Now young birders in the West have a book to get them started birding.
Yesterday afternoon, just as the school day was winding down, I gave the Salem-Liberty 6th graders their books, signed most of them, then we went out in front of the tiny rural school and snapped a photo for posterity (above). All of these kids are in their last days at Salem-Liberty. Next year they will all attend Fort Frye High School on the other side of the county. I thought back on the many dozens of birding walks we'd taken around the school grounds since 2006. I feel so lucky to have been a part of these book projects with these young folks. We've always had fun.
I believe that birds are the easiest way to connect young people to nature and that's been my mission with these two books. It will continue to be my mission for the rest of my life. But there's no way I could have done it without the great minds and enthusiastic helpers at Salem-Liberty Elementary School.
I'll be forever grateful to those amazing Salem-Liberty kids and their dedicated teachers.