This amazing photo essay book covers the history of the kakapo’s near-annihilation by human settlers on New Zealand and by the species that the humans brought with them, species against which the kakapo, and many other animals, had no natural defenses. The kakapo are friendly and trusting, bonding easily with families who captured them as pets. By the time conservation efforts were launched, it was almost too late. Over twenty-four years, more than sixty expeditions searched for remaining kakapo. Eighteen were found, all male (Montgomery 2010, 7-8).
In the years since, more kakapo have been discovered, and Codfish Island is now a national refuge for the remaining birds. The author and photographer gained permission to spend ten days on the restricted island, observing the scientists and volunteers who work tirelessly to save a species that remains critically endangered and indescribably unique.
The text seems to be the result of everything that the author learned on-site, from the world’s experts on the kakapo and from her own observations of a species that few people will ever get to see. Montgomery and Bishop have published many books together that have received starred reviews and honors from the ALA and Siebert committee (Sy “Books for Children” 2015).
The layout of the story is gripping, if unusual. The opening chapter describes one night of observation at a Codfish Island nest, and the following chapter backs up to cover the history of the kakapo. After that, the story returns to the author’s experiences, but not to the nesting site. Instead, the story of the author’s travel begins in chapter three, and after that, the book progresses chronologically. The sequence is convoluted, but never confusing. Throughout the text, off-set “articles” with differently-colored backgrounds give more information about the species of New Zealand and the history of kakapo conservation.
Gorgeous photographs depict the wildlife and greenery of Codfish Island and document the difficult journey to the island. The pictures and the text together show the passion of the scientists and volunteers on the island and help the reader to see them as real people (one had her nose pressed into a kakapo, smelling it) and not just the background to the far more exciting wildlife. One particularly memorable photo shows Ranger Jeff holding a just-hatched kakapo chick, a chick who was, at that moment, the only one in existence (Montgomery 2010, 25-27). The pictures of the kakapo are, of course, the best part. The photographer captures the awkward beauty of the kakapo chicks and the incredible color and softness of the adult birds.
The author occasionally chooses to define words for the reader, but the definitions are always stated factually and never give the impression that she is talking down to the reader. The book ends with a summary of the current state of the kakapo, as of the book’s publication, as well as a website for those who want to keep updated on the kakapo recovery program. There is also an address for donations, a selected bibliography, and an index.
The design of the book is everything it should be. It is lovely, approachable, and engaging, and every photo is worth careful study. The author is clearly passionate about these birds and feels deeply about their continued struggle.
The Center for Children’s Books called KAKAPO RESCUE a “dramatic story of preservation attempts at the very brink of extinction, and the tension, excitement, and fragility of the situation is made crystal clear,” while Booklist stated that “Montgomery’s delight in her subject is contagious, and throughout her enthusiastic text, she nimbly blends scientific and historical facts with immediate, sensory descriptions of fieldwork” (Sy “Kakapo Rescue Reviews” 2015).
A BOOMING IN THE NIGHT by Ben Brown and Helen Taylor
ONE LONELY KAKAPO by Sandra Morris
SIROCCO: THE ROCK-STAR KAKAPO by Sarah Ell
Kakapo are incredibly beautiful birds. Follow the tradition of early naturalists and sketch a kakapo with as much detail as you can!
Keulemans, John Gerrard. “The Kakapo or Owl Parrot: Strigops Habroptilus.” Accessed October 9, 2015. From Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABuller_Kakapo.jpg
Montgomery, Sy, and Nic Bishop. 2010. Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.
Sy Montgomery. Accessed October 9, 2015. “Books for Children.” http://symontgomery.com/books-for-children/
Sy Montgomery. Accessed October 9, 2015. “Kakapo Rescue Reviews.” http://symontgomery.com/kakapo-rescue-reviews/