The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow

By Jan Thornhill. Groundwood Books, 2018. 44 pages. $18.95/hardcover; $16.95/eBook. Recommended for ages 9–12.

Jan Thornhill has created a beautiful and informative book about the common little brown bird, the house sparrow. This noted Canadian author and illustrator has written several prize-winning books and received a lifetime achievement award by the Writers’ Trust of Canada. This book is an oversized book with dense text and lovely illustrations that go to the edges of the open book’s pages. I, like many others, have spent a lot of time watching sparrows peck crumbs off the ground at outdoor restaurants. I enjoy their chatter and energy. Many years ago my family fondly named these birds LBBs (little brown birds) because they bring us so much pleasure.

The first sentence of this book gave me pause: “Behold the most despised bird in human history!” Thinking of our friendly LBB as a despised bird was jarring. Yes, I realized that these perky little guys could be problematic, but describing them as the “most despised bird” contradicted my love of the natural world. The beautiful artwork invited me to read on.

Older children and adults alike will learn the interesting history and origins of the house sparrow. Thornhill follows this small bird from Ancient Egypt to China, Denmark, and the United States. While it is tempting to write more about the book’s text, I prefer to encourage readers of this review to find this book and share it with a middle school-aged young person, or simply pose and ponder the book as it is offered. The content encourages us to reflect upon and evaluate the relationship between human beings and animals. This book leaves us with admiration for this feisty bird and hope for our world.

The last three pages of the book contains additional information about the house sparrow: a map of origin and distribution, the life cycle, and more resources and references. The content and organization of this book should inspire many young people to enthusiastically and creatively approach research. Upon perusing the author’s website,, I found myself wishing to include many of her books in my personal library. Her love and understanding of the natural world is presented in a direct and honest way. Her illustrations are a combination of colored pencil, gouache, and digital collages. Thornhill’s website also includes step-by-step information about her visual artwork. Her other books are a beautiful resource for preschool children and visual artists.


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