cover image Townsend's Warbler

Townsend's Warbler

Paul Fleischman. HarperCollins Publishers, $13 (52pp) ISBN 978-0-06-021874-4

From the era of America's westward expansion two migratory accounts entwine--men on horseback and birds on wing. In the spring of 1834, John Townsend and Thomas Nuttall leave Philadelphia determined to be the first naturalists to cross the entire U.S. Simultaneously, flocks of an unnamed bird abandon their native Central America for northern breeding grounds and a fateful rendezvous with the naturalists. Fleischman's exceptional sense of counterpoint plays not so much in his prose but in the story's textures. Events and sensibilities of the two migrations rise and fall like the land and the air currents they ride--exuberant first sightings of exotic birds and unfamiliar plants are interspersed with the ravages of weather, Indian war parties and starvation; the hardship and risk as man pushes through the wilds is crowned by a tiny bird's similar effort. Fleischman's biographical, mostly undramatic prose presents a foil for the fresh, immediate words of Townsend's own diary. Black-and-white paintings of the era draw readers into the strangeness of the new land, helping them share Townsend's ``ecstasy--when a specimen such as he has never before seen meets his eye.'' Yet this is a quiet ecstasy that may be lost on younger readers. Ages 8-12. (May)