A banner with the El Yunque quarter flies over the visitors’ center in El Yunque National Forest. Photograph © Cindy Trumbore. Used by permission.
Cindy Trumbore and Susan L. Roth on Parrots Over Puerto Rico:
With most picture books, readers turn the page from right to left. Parrots Over Puerto Rico is different. You turn the pages of our book the way you would turn a calendar’s pages— and there is a reason for that! It tells two stories at the same time.
The idea for this book started with a coin: a quarter in a series with scenes of America’s national forests. In 2012, the newest quarter showed El Yunque, America’s only tropical rain forest. El Yunque is on the island of Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory. The quarter showed a Puerto Rican parrot because El Yunque is one of only two places where these beautiful, endangered birds live in the wild.
The Puerto Rican Parrot. PHOTO CREDIT: PABLO TORRES, u.s. fISH & wILDLIFE sERVICE.
Cindy read about the quarter and the parrots in her local newspaper. She learned how the parrots went from a population of hundreds of thousands in prehistoric times to a flock of just 24 birds in 1967. She also read about how a group of scientists brought the parrots back from the brink of extinction by taking eggs from wild nests and caring for them with the kind of attention you might give to dragons' eggs. These scientists trained the chicks that hatched in captivity how to find food in the wild and how to hide from their enemies. Then they began releasing the birds back into the wild, slowly building them to a population of about 500 parrots today.We were looking for a new picture book idea. We began researching Puerto Rican parrots, but soon we realized that we could not tell the story of the parrots without also telling the history of Puerto Rico. Everything that happened to the birds, such as hurricanes and invasions, also happened to the people on the island. We knew the book had to tell two stories—one set in the treetops, with the parrots, and the other set on the island down below, with humans.
A regular picture book would not allow Susan to create collage illustrations that looked as tall as the trees where the parrots fly. She decided that only a book where you turned the pages from bottom to top would give her the space she needed.
To research the book, we took a trip to Puerto Rico and even got to see three of the parrots that had been released into the wild fly over our heads! At home again, Susan started making paper parrots. Each one took her 23 minutes.
But the paper birds did not fly right away. They didn’t look right to Susan. It was only after she chanced to see a flock of New York pigeons take off from a supermarket sign in a loud rush that she understood the way birds fly together. They are not like polka dots in the sky. Instead, they fly together, but each has its own path within the group.
Back with her paper sky, Susan rearranged her parrots, and Parrots Over Puerto Rico took flight.
This spread shows the parrots flying over a group of people called the Taínos, who came to Puerto Rico around 800 CE. Illustration © Susan L. Roth from Parrots Over Puerto Rico. Used by permission of Lee & Low Books, Inc.
Susan L. Roth (right), author and illustrator, creates unique mixed-media collage illustrations that have appeared in numerous award-winning children’s books, many of which she also wrote. Her book, Listen to the Wind, spent a year on The New York Times best seller list. The Mangrove Tree, which was released in 2011 and addressed Dr. Gordon Sato's mangrove tree-planting project, was the winner of Jane Addams Children's Book Award. Roth lives in New York.
Cindy Trumbore (left), author, has been involved with young people’s literature for most of her career. A former editor in children’s book publishing, she now writes children’s books, edits books for classrooms, and teaches writing. Her past titles include The Genie in the Book, Discovering the Titanic, and The Mangrove Tree with her friend Susan L. Roth. She lives with her family in New Jersey.
Their book, Parrots Over Puerto Rico, was a finalist for the 2015 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books in the Children's Science Book category.
- Book/Author Resources
- An interview with Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore about this book and their partnership.
- Susan's website is filled with lots of activities and information about her writing and artwork.
- Cindy's website is here.
- The Puerto Rican Parrot—A Story of an Amazing Rescue (pdf) is another version of the story told in Parrots Over Puerto Rico.
- Learn all about the Puerto Rican Parrot from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
- El Yunque National Forest is the forest habitat where the remaining wild Puerto Rican parrots make their homes.
- All About Birds gives information on 600 species of birds, from the common American Robin to the rare Kirtland's Warbler.
- Watch a video of the Marbled Murrelet, a small, Pacific seabird listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in California, Oregon, and Washington. The murrelet was the last bird species in North America to have its nesting site discovered in 1974. These birds nest in old-growth, redwood forests but spend most of their lives out on the ocean.
- Watch a video of a morning bird inventory from the 2013 BioBlitz.
- If you liked Susan's bird collages, you might also like Diana Beltran Herrera's Paper Birds.
- Biodiversity and Habitat
- In BioDiversity: Life in the City, scroll over a drawing of an urban, park-like setting and find ten examples of hidden "critters."
- This video talks about why it's important to plan gardens with wildlife in mind.
- In this video, host Bob Hirshon explains what the BioBlitz is all about and introduces the concept of biodiversity.
- Biomes of the World provides information on rainforest, tundra, taiga, desert, temperate, and grassland biomes.
- Puerto Rico
- In this article from Time for Kids, learn about Puerto Rico's culture, history, and the Taíno language.
- Learn more about Taíno Indian culture.
- Listen to the sounds of the Taíno.
- Read more about El Yunque, Puerto Rico's rainforest wonder.
- Taíno Indians of Puerto Rico shares history, songs, coloring pages, culture, and information about Puerto Rican parrots and frogs.
- Learn more about the Puerto Rican Coquí, a frog native to the island.
Related Educator Resources
- The publisher's page for the book.
- The Parrots Over Puerto Rico educator guide (pdf) from RIF.
- How to Compare and Contrast with the Common Core in Fourth Grade looks at Parrots Over Puerto Rico and Puffling Patrol.
- Book and Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure pairs this book with a trip to the zoo.
- The Classroom Bookshelf has a number of ideas for how to incorporate this book into classrooms for grades 2-8.
- Advanced learners interested in parrots may find this Science Update podcast about parrot learning worth a listen. It includes some challenging vocabulary words and scientific concepts, so you may want to listen together and go over some of the more difficult bits.
- In the A Seabird in the Forest lesson, students learn about the interdependent relationship between the Marbled Murrelet bird and the environment of old growth forests, such as redwood trees.
- In this lesson on Bird Beaks, students explore the relationship between a bird's beak and its ability to find food and survive in a given environment.
- In the Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard lesson, students engage in meaningful observation of the natural world by sketching common birds in their area.
- In the Big Egg Mystery lesson, students learn about the scientific process by exploring how a bird can sit on his/her eggs without breaking them.
- Pond 1: Pond Life explores how organisms satisfy their needs within their environments and the relationships that exist between organisms within an environment.
- Introducing Biodiversity introduces students to the amazing variety of life around them.
- If your students are interested in other Puerto Rican species, the Coqui is another native animal and one that has undergone some interesting changes due to the impacts of climate change.
- Taínos gives some history, culture, and language of the native people of Puerto Rico.
- This Smithsonian Magazine article explores What Became of the Taíno?
- Genographic Project DNA Results Reveal Details of Puerto Rican History: Background information for you about one of the genomic studies going on around Puerto Rico and Vieques that hopes to gain more information about their ancient past and learn how their DNA fits into the human family tree. Advanced students may find some of the genetic studies going on in this area of the world to be of interest.