Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird: A True Story

Stephanie Spinner, Author, Meilo So, Illustrator
Stephanie Spinner, illus. by Meilo So. Knopf, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-375-86846-7
Reviewed on: 09/24/2012
Release date: 10/09/2012
Library Binding - 48 pages - 978-0-375-96846-4
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Alex, as adult readers may recall, was indeed no ordinary bird: for 30 years, this African grey parrot, purchased in a pet shop, was the research subject of animal psychologist Irene Pepperberg, who taught Alex how to count and do simple arithmetic; recognize shapes, materials, sizes, and colors; and speak and understand hundreds of words—upending the conventional wisdom about animal intelligence and proving that “birdbrain” could actually be a compliment. Alex died suddenly in 2007 and was mourned worldwide, but his life is well-served by Spinner (Aliens for Breakfast) and especially by So, whose fans will no doubt cheer her having found another bird story (after 2008’s Pale Male) that’s a perfect match for her artistry. Together they dive into the details of Alex and Pepperberg’s work, giving Alex’s larger than-life personality its full due (“He let everybody know what he wanted, pretty much all the time”), and showing, with admirable restraint, how an experiment also became an expression of love and deepest respect. It’s a remarkable story with a sad ending—but it’s a good kind of sad. Ages 8–12. (Oct.)
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