This A4 sized book was first printed in 1947 by Collins, the text is by Sydney Rogerson and is accompanied with illustrations by Charles Tunnicliffe. This delightful book is written for children – hence the quaint title of ‘Our Bird book’ rather than something like ‘An illustrated handbook to the birds of Britain and Ireland’. Mr Rogerson’s text is simply lovely and very engaging for children (at least I think so), because of the era it was written in his style of writing is very much like a friendly uncle or a kindly school teacher. It is not patronising at all, he speaks on the child’s level in a way that they understand and does not underestimate a child’s intelligence and curiosity. It is very educational as he does not just explain how to recognise birds but also what behaviour to look out for and the ‘personalities’ of the birds themselves (he refers to them as people and feathered friends). Rogerson’s own enthusiasm and love for nature is very clear, he frequently highlights the text with anecdotes of his own experiences (including from childhood). Unfortunately Rogerson is not always 100% accurate, for example he claims that the House Sparrow is the only species of its family in Britain; it seems he forgot or was unaware of the Tree Sparrow.
To make it easier for a child to find a bird in the book or know where to look for them, it is arranged in seven chapters, each covering a certain habitat (apart from the last two). It starts with a chapter on ‘Birds in General’ which sort of covers the basic facts of where birds live, why they behave certain ways and encourages the reader to attract them to their garden. To give you an idea of the tone of the book, Rogerson describes the Puffin as “…for all the world like a fat little old man with a swollen nose!” Then there is ‘Familiar Friends’ which obviously deals with common garden birds, then ‘Acquaintances of the Fields’, ‘Trees and Woods’, ‘River, Marsh and Shore’ then comes a chapter devoted to migratory birds (summer or winter or passage) titled ‘Visitors’. The final chapter is called ‘Birdnesting’, and you would be forgiven for thinking that it encourages egg-collecting, considering when it was written. Instead he openly says that such behaviour is wrong, the chapter then concerns itself with educating the reader on how to observe birds, identify them, find nests and tells the reader to care for birds; “And the happier your bird friends are, the happier you will be to have them round you.”
This book, on just the text alone, would in my opinion be ‘average’ much like an Enid Blyton nature book, not bad at all and very much of its time. But I cannot ignore the fact that Charles Tunnicliffe has illustrated this book, profusely too; there are 52 full-page colour illustrations and numerous black-and-white drawings throughout. Some of you may know of C.F.Tunnicliffe from his work in certain Ladybird books, but his work can be found in many books from that era because he was a prolific artist. Upon seeing the art in this book my mouth fell open and I could not speak – they are quite simply exquisitely beautiful. The small black etchings are fantastic in themselves, and varied too – there is even one of a cat on the final page looking for bird nests! But it is the colour paintings that steal the show, every one features several birds in their habitat set against a white background, some have a single species, some show several but they are all brilliant in their composition, accuracy, colour and the naturalness of their poses. I wish that I could frame them all and hang them on the wall, but as they are they provide a very colourful and engaging compliment to the text and would surely encourage any child to want to see the real thing for themselves.