Upon rereading MOONBIRD, it remains firmly entrenched in my top three. It doesn’t have the buzz that BOMB does, but I think it’s just as good in its own way. Take plot, for instance, a criterion that most people would give to BOMB in a head-to-head comparison. To be sure, the tension and suspense of BOMB is hard to beat, but the way Hoose has organized his information is no less impressive. It’s a tour de force of non-linear plotting.
We meet B95 in his old age, and follow his journey from the bottom of the world to the top, but once we are at the top of the world, Hoose gives us a flashback to when B95 was a baby, surving the breeding ground and preparing to make his first southbound voyage. Then we flash back to the present to continue his southbound flight, fraught with even more danger than the northbound one, something we appreciate even more now with the help of new technology–geolocators–that helps us track the flight paths.
In between these chapters, we have profiles of various scientists who are interested in B95. To be sure, these serve as Scientists in the Field vignettes, modeling career paths for young readers, but from a narrative standpoint they are also flashbacks focused on different viewpoint characters. And speaking of viewpoint characters, Hoose has woven his own story into that of B95 and the rufa red knots.
Now to respond to a couple of the criticisms from the first round of discussion.
First, the idea that this book is preachy or didactic. Eric and I have revisited this in the comments elsewhere, but I want to lay it out here as well. I see this as a work of conversation biology. Hoose’s point of view is telegraphed to readers from the first page.
Meet B95, one of the world’s premier athletes. Weighing a mere four ounces, he’s flown more than 325,000 miles in his life–the distance to the moon and nearly halfway back. He flies at mountaintop height along ancient routes that lead him to his breeding grounds and back. But changes throughout his migratory circuit are challenging this Superbird and threatening to wipe out his entire subspecies of rufa red knot. Places that are critical for B95 and his flock to rest and refuel–stepping-stones along a vast annual migration network–have been altered by human activity. Can these places and the good they contain be preserved?
Or will B95’s and rufa’s days of flight soon come to an end?
Hoose has to persuade you that we can–and should–take the necessary steps to preserve the rufa red knot. He has to make you care about the birds. That’s the author’s purpose for writing the book, and not surprisingly he revisits this question–Why should you care?–in the final section of the final chapter. Every storytelling choice, every expository nonfiction choice was made with this end in mind. I think he succeeds, but I know other people remain unmoved by the plight of the birds.
Second, the idea that the southhbound journey is redundant or that the pacing lags because of it. Now that I’ve reread this, I don’t think there’s much merit to this criticism. As I mentioned above Hoose constantly switches the viewpoint and introduces new information to maintain the level of suspense and interest. However, I do think the horseshoe crab section is one of the more compelling sections of the book, so I can understand why some people might feel a lull afterwards.
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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