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THE TRAGIC TALE OF THE GREAT AUK by Jan Thornhill Kirkus Star


by Jan Thornhill ; illustrated by Jan Thornhill

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-55498-865-5
Publisher: Groundwood

Hundreds of thousands of great auks once swam in cold northern waters, but these birds have all disappeared owing to a tragic intersection of climate change and human activities.

Thornhill starts with an admirable depiction of this remarkable bird, known even to prehistoric cave painters. "Behold the Great Auk! The Gejrfugl! The northern penguin!" she begins. A tall black-and-white bird stands proudly on a rock on the facing page, looking across at a flock on another rocky island, outlined in white like ghosts. Her illustrations, done with stylus and tablet, have the look of acrylic paintings, and they are striking, with text sitting directly on the double-page illustrations. She tells this sad story smoothly and relatively gently while showing readers flocks of identifiable seabirds, schools of fish, small boats (a Viking ship, an Inuit kayak) on rough seas, the back of a fox looking down on an inaccessible island roost, a chick being fed, collections of eggs, and stuffed birds in a 19th-century museum. Many illustrations pull back to show the landscape, but some are close-ups—most effectively, a broken egg in front of the boots of the Icelandic fishermen who strangled the last two auks remaining in the world. She concludes with the legacy of this loss, part of the impetus for the bird conservation movement.

A sobering, beautifully presented extinction story.

(map, glossary, list of extinct species, resources, references) (Nonfiction. 9-13)