The typical ruby-throated hummingbird is about three inches long. He weighs as much as a penny. That this tiny creature somehow manages a 1,500-mile sprint– in the span of twenty-plus hours, mind you—is miraculous, to say the least.
And still, they embark every year on this seemingly impossible journey. Twice a year, in fact.
This amazing feat is the inspiration behind Robert Burleigh and Wendell Minor’s upcoming picture book, TINY BIRD: A Hummingbird’s Amazing Journey.
With a feather-light touch, Robert Burleigh blends lyrical words with action-packed phrases, charting Tiny Bird’s progress on every leg of this suspenseful journey.
The story opens in a peaceful garden, where “Tiny Bird rests and feeds, / flickering from flower to flower / like an emerald spark flashing in the bright sun.”
Burleigh gives a breathless account of Tiny Bird’s southward trek–down the Atlantic Coast from New England, across the Gulf of Mexico, and into his tropical forest home, where he returns every winter.
“Over the first pounding waves, / it begins its nonstop flight of more than twenty hours. / Can Tiny Bird make it? Many hummingbirds never do.”
From the very beginning, we find ourselves rooting for Tiny Bird’s success. And we are lured deeper into the story with every page.
Drawing inspiration from hummingbirds at a neighbor’s feeder, renowned artist Wendell Minor uses watercolor images to help lift Tiny Bird’s story off the page. His paintings move seamlessly between shimmer and shadow, sprinkling symbolism over the realistic contours of a very suspenseful tale.
In this opening scene, for instance, Tiny Bird is basking in the warm autumn sunshine at his rural New England home.
So different, the bright colors and dynamic brushstrokes Minor uses in this scene, where Tiny Bird is dodging a predator…
and the darker, more intense palette of this illustration, where Tiny Bird braves a storm at sea!
In the span of 40 pages, we get a very real sense of Tiny Bird’s strengths and vulnerabilities. We come to appreciate his persistence. We are awed by his outsized courage. From takeoff to landing, we get the full measure of a hummingbird, and the magnitude of his journey.
My own garden is a year-round sanctuary for Allen’s hummingbirds—homebodies that build nests in our front yard fuchsia, feast in our flower garden, and guard our nectar feeders. They may wander into the neighbor’s yard, but they never migrate. And why would they, when the California sunshine warms their tiny, iridescent bodies almost every day? Even so, I enjoyed learning about their migration patterns—first, by following Tiny Bird’s amazing journey, and then by thumbing through the “Fun Facts” section and endpapers.
Although its intended audience includes children from 5 to 8 years old, I imagine it’ll be a favorite for kids of all ages. If you want proof, just look at this two-page spread! Here, Tiny Bird is a nearly imperceptible speck in a vast, tumultuous ocean.
It’s a magnificent image, symbolizing everything I’ve come to know and appreciate about this ephemeral creature. Strength, courage, and persistence in the face of adversity… these are traits worth emulating, in times such as this.