Birds of a Feather

By Pamela Brill, Children's Bookshelf -- Publishers Weekly, 8/23/2007

It's not uncommon for real-life events to inspire books for children. But when the story of a hawk that took residence along New York City’s fabled Fifth Avenue, which captured national attention, spawns the publication of not one, but two new picture books, that’s reason to take notice. Bookshelf spoke with both authors––Meghan McCarthy (City Hawk: The Story of Pale Male, Simon & Schuster) and Jeanette Winter (The Tale of Pale Male, Harcourt)––who, like numerous city dwellers, were enamored by the hawk-cum-media darling that refused to budge from its nest. Unlike the average citizen, however, they put pen to paper to immortalize his tale of determination.

A self-proclaimed lifelong animal lover, McCarthy says that as a girl she would rescue injured baby birds and carry them home in cardboard boxes lined with towels. "I'd go so far as to put worms into the blender and administer them using an eyedropper," she recalls.

But it wasn't until McCarthy saw a movie about Pale Male that she got caught up in his story. The Rhode Island School of Design graduate, who has lived in New York for the past seven years, became hooked on the hawk after seeing the Frederic Lilien film on the subject, which aired on PBS.

Even before McCarthy ever saw Pale Male in person, she knew she wanted to write his story. And she has since spotted him several times while jogging in Central Park. "Seeing the hawk up close is better than looking at him through the telescope any day,Óshe exclaims.

McCarthy's enthusiasm carried over to her book, which she characterizes as "a survival story, a nature-overcoming-man story." It features a wide-eyed bird and an equally expressive audience––who dub themselves "the Regulars"––all of whom are obsessed with spotting Pale Male. The controversy that surrounded the nest removal occurred after McCarthy had completed her first draft, and wasn't something she necessarily wanted to address. "I wanted to focus on the good things that have happened," she says.

Winter's Tale

For Winter, who resides near Central Park, it was the removal of Pale Male's nest that prompted her to both write and illustrate his story. “It motivated me to want to tell the story of how the people of the city came together to preserve a habitat."

WinterŐs account is her latest book based on real-life events (others include Mama, based on the story of Owen and Mzee; and The Librarian of Basra). Her Pale Male story not only educates young readers about this particular birdŐs adventures, but offers nuggets about the hawk's mating style, eating habits and other fun facts. For Winter, it just so happens true-to-life occurrences fit well within the picture book medium. "If there's a story I want to tell for a particular age group, it involves a lot of simplifying and that appeals to me," she explains.

While both authors approach the subject of Pale Male from different angles, they share a common desire: to stimulate their audience. Says McCarthy, "I hope children will look at the world around them more closely, because whether living in the country or the city, nature is everywhere."

And when it comes to protecting nature's creatures, Winter believes kids have the ability to make a difference. "I hope this book will teach them that if something is happening, they don’t have to be quiet about it," she says. With both stories appearing on bookshelves this year, how do these writers feel about the competition? Winter believes itŐll be interesting to see the two different picture book perspectives. As McCarthy puts it, "Just as no two brains are the same, so are no two books."







From Publishers Weekly

Featuring similarly spare paintings as Jeanette Winters's The Tale of Pale Male: A True Story, McCarthy's (Aliens Are Coming!) book covers much of the same turf––and air space––as that spring release. McCarthy concisely chronicles the true, reportedly unprecedented occurrence of two red-tailed hawks' construction of a nest in the cornice of a swanky apartment building on Manhattan's Upper East Side. From nearby Central Park, a group of bird-watchers who called themselves the Regulars vigilantly followed Pale Male and Lola's every move and rejoiced when two chicks hatched. The other headline-grabbing aspect of these hawks' tale—the building's residents, irked by the birds' messy habits, successfully lobbied to get the nest removed, then, in response to passionate protests, reversed their decision—is explained in a lengthy author's note. Combining vibrant and earth tones, McCarthy's unadorned acrylic illustrations have a puckish quality, both her human and winged characters incarnated as amiable bug-eyed creatures who express themselves through the slant of their mouths (or tilt of their beaks). A portion of the proceeds from sales of this book will benefit New York City Audubon. Ages 4-8. (Sept.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


From The Horn Book

Here's yet another account of the stir created when New York City's red-tailed hawks nested high on an upscale facade overlooking Central Park (see also Jeanette Winter's Tale of Pale Male, rev. 3/07). Where Winter's book was concerned with the birds' needs and behavior, McCarthy focuses on the city and its people. "After Pale Male was sighted near a pond in Central Park, flying over the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and by a hot-dog stand, it was clear that he was there to stay." Omitting the drama of the building owners' removal of the nest and its reinstatement, she details the delight of faithful birdwatchers, depicting them (rather comically) as pop-eyed––as are her hawks. The liveliness of these caricatures and McCarthy's rouggh yet evocative rendering of the city contrast significantly with Winter's elegant stylized forms; many libraries may wish to have both books. City Hawk includes a lengthy bibliography, havy on newspaper accounts; a page of information about Central Park; and a long author's note that extends both the natural and the social history. J.R.L