Monday, October 24, 2011

A Toy Whistle & Pure Honey

One of the $3.00 treasures found in last Saturday’s flea market is a small book that deserves its own spotlight. While stirring through the piles of bric-a-brac that turned up the plastic doll and the Westclox Big Ben mentioned yesterday, I uncovered an almost grubby book that even under its blanket of dust stood out with a pretty and stylish cover. Under most circumstances books for young readers, and especially those with water damage, are not the type likely to encourage my interest. But the cover on this one grabbed me.

It didn’t take long to realize that Starlings by Wilfred S Bronson, published by Harcourt, Brace & World in 1948 is a small gem bursting with the charm of its many pencil illustrations done by the author. Knowing almost nothing about starlings, and not especially drawn to the bird, page by page Bronson reeled me in, almost defying me to not turn the page. Halfway through the book I was captivated and couldn’t wait to find a quiet corner at home to read the book cover to cover. The book was clearly designed for children, to teach them about a bird not native to the Americas but now quite common here. The text is juvenile, but definitely not lacking in interest and a certain style. Easy to imagine that many young readers would gobble this kind of thing off the page…

‘When the singing time of other birds has ended, when many have flown away, starlings stay with us and still sing. All through the year, in good weather and bad, in town or country, a starling will sing. He sings for many minutes at a time, and many times a day. With a steady stream of soft gurgling sounds he mixes every now and then a single higher, clear, sweet note. But very often the starling tries to sing this note much louder than he can. Then he doesn’t quite scream. He doesn’t quite squeal. He “screals.” “Screaling” may sound cross to some of us, but really it is not. The starling just feels so gay he uses more breath to tell it than his throat can manage.’

The drawing above is meant to show the starlings right after their annual molting in August. Bronson describes the birds as looking in winter like ‘a patch of midnight sky sparkling with little stars.’

In this illustration the author explains the molting process, the sequence of dropped feathers and the manner of maintaining balance and the ability to fly as the feathers are replaced a few at a time.

Here we have drawings showing how the starling’s muscles work both at rest and in flight. Notice the difference in the feet when the bird sleeps and when it perches.

One of my favorite drawings in the book, this one shows a pair of elves mixing up a waterfall of starling music. Ingredients: several drops of pure honey, a toy whistle, a waterfall, and naturally a starling.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful treasure published right after WWII when some of us were young. And that you found it and gave it an appreciative home speaks to that allure of shopping rummage sales. Wonderful drawings. And among my stacks are many of the books we bought for our daughters; books beautifully done and a touchstone to those early days of introducing books to them.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America