Song of the white ibis by Phillip Gwynne & Liz Anelli

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The White Ibis is not just a Bin Chicken or Tip Turkey, or even a Picnic Pirate found over Australia, but an animal of which we would do well to take more notice. With a lightly humorous touch, Gwynne tells the tale of this majestic bird and supported with wonderfully detailed illustrations by Liz Anelli, the whole is a celebration of an often overlooked, underrated and dismissed bird now found everywhere.  

The three lines, calling to mind the negative words by which it is known: Bin Chicken, Tip Turkey and Picnic Pirate, are used on each page, a refrain kids will know and repeat by the second page, joining in the fun of it being read aloud. Their expectations of a story about a scavenging bird are put to rest as we hear of its other attributes. It is related to the Scared Ibis of Ancient Egypt, and to the Egyptian God of Science, Thoth.

Its pedigree makes it a useful bird for farmers, using their long beaks to dig into the soil looking for worms, turning over the sods as they dig, eating the many insects which plague the crops. In the wild, they do not have to resort to the rubbish we leave behind, but feast on crayfish and mussels, using their beaks as a tool to crash open the shells on the rocks. They once lived in wetlands, but like many birds our encroachment upon their environment has seen them adapt to the urban environment we have created.

It is learning to live with us that has caused them to scavenge and feed from our rubbish. And we have left a lot of it about.

Amid the urban environment with its ugly pollution and smog comes a tender moment when the male Ibis offers the female a twig and she accepts it, using it as part of a nest high above the city, ready for their young.

A panorama of the city reveals the Ibis in all corners of the town, eating from bins, stalking people in the park, drinking from old containers. Closer inspection will reveal some people doing the right thing: planting trees, picking up the rubbish, recycling and over the page we get to the main thrust of this book as the Ibis whispers some sage advice. The three words, Renew, Recycle and Replenish are shown because we do not want to end up as Bin Chickens like the Ibis.

This is a salutary reminder that we have created the problem that attacks our overflowing bins, following children for the food in their hands, sitting on picnic tables waiting for the food to be set out. And it is up to us to follow their lead and put things right by Renewing, Recycling and Replenishing.

Themes: Ancient Egypt, STEM, Thoth, Humour, Scavenging, Australian animals, Pollution, Environment, Recycling.

Fran Knight