Extraordinary Birds: Take a Peek Inside December’s Bird Journal

Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-McGinnis is a heartfelt story of a bird-loving girl named December who discovers the true meaning of family and trust. This powerful story is out today from Bloomsbury Children’s Books and is filled with hope that shines brighter than the scars of December’s past.

December’s life hasn’t been easy – her mother abandoned her, and she has been kicked out of more than a few foster homes because her foster families find her to be peculiar. To escape her reality, December keeps a journal where she imagines herself as a bird, believing that wings will someday sprout from the scars on her back so she can fly away to her true home and reunite with her mother.

When her new foster mother Eleanor treats her with kindness and shares her love of birds, December is given a new beginning that is nothing short of extraordinary.

For fans of The Thing About Jellyfish, Counting by 7s, and Fish in a Tree, a heartbreaking and hopeful debut novel about a unique young girl on a journey to find home.

Eleven-year-old December knows everything about birds, and everything about getting kicked out of foster homes. All she has of her mother is the book she left behind, The Complete Guide to Birds: Volume One, and a message: “In flight is where you’ll find me.” December believes she’s truly a bird, just waiting for the day she transforms and flies away to her real home. The scar on her back must be where her wings have started to blossom—she just needs to find the right tree and practice her flying. She has no choice; it’s the only story that makes sense.

When she’s placed with Eleanor, a new foster mom who runs a taxidermy business and volunteers at a wildlife rescue, December begins to see herself and what home means in a new light. But the story she tells herself about her past is what’s kept December going this long, and she doesn’t know if she can let it go… even if changing her story might mean that she can finally find a place where she belongs.

Extraordinary Birds
AUTHOR: Sandy Stark-McGinnis
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
DATE: April 30, 2019

Take a Peek into December’s Bird Journal:

We’re honored to share that Extraordinary Birds author Sandy Stark-McGinnis is giving YAYOMG! readers an extra-special glimpse into the story. Sandy penned a few entries from December’s bird journal. Keep reading below to experience the world through December’s eyes.

Extraordinary Birds: Take a Peek into December's Bird Journal
(Image via oregonzoo.org)


WEATHER: Warm–summer is still hanging around

PLACE/HABITAT: Field (by the wildlife refuge)

WHO: Just me (and the sound of my foster mom, Eleanor)

OBSERVATIONS: Eleanor opened the windows when we first got to the refuge. I can hear her singing. There’s a hawk circling in the sky above the river, about thirty yards from me. Eleanor said not to go past the field and gave me her special bird watching binoculars. I wonder if she’s thought about using them to look at me. The hawk soars—I wish flight was that easy. I wish I could fly the way Eleanor sings. The hawk changes course, catching currents of air and glides in a circle.

This morning at breakfast, under my bowl of sunflower seeds, Eleanor left a little note—she does this sometimes. So far, they’ve been quotes from poets or ornithologists. (This is what Adrian thinks I should be when I grow up. He might be right. Studying birds would be a great job.) This one was by a poet named Robert Lynd. “In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of silence.” Funny. All I hear is the distant, quiet sound of Eleanor singing, but I see the hawk. It dives down, disappearing into the trees.

BIRD SPECIES/FEATURES: Red-tailed hawk, scientific name: Buteo jamaicensi. Red, light and dark brown feathers. Eyes set close—good for spotting prey at a distance.

Extraordinary Birds: Take a Peek into December's Bird Journal
(Image via sandiegozoo.org)



PLACE/HABITAT: In the backyard, but adaptable to many different places, like me.

WHO: Eleanor and me

OBSERVATIONS: It’s night. I told Eleanor at dinner I’d never heard the “hoot” of a great-horned owl before. So, we’re outside, waiting, listening. It’s so quiet, everything cold, frozen except for Eleanor’s breath. I hear it. I see it, too, visible against the air like mine. Then, because she’s the Bird Whisperer, she makes a “hooting” sound of her own, calling to the owls. It’s a beautiful call. Beautiful and wise enough—Can sounds be wise?—to maybe bring Teresa back to life. “Hopefully, one will call back,” Eleanor whispers. Four rounds of calls later, there’s no response from the owls tonight. Eleanor says we can try again and predicts I will hear the hoot of a great-horned owl someday soon. I told her “maybe”. It’s a better word to use. I trust it more. “Maybe” is more real.

BIRD SPECIES/FEATURES: Great horned owl, scientific name: Bubo virginianus, gray feathers with triangular ears, ears that can hear a mouse squeaking from at least a half mile away.

Extraordinary Birds: Take a Peek into December's Bird Journal
(Image via ebird.org, Photographer: Matt Davis)


WEATHER: 103 degrees

PLACE/HABITAT: Under the live oak tree

WHO: Cheryllynn and me

OBSERVATIONS: Cheryllynn brought slushies and two red straws shaped like a spoon at the end. She mixed blueberry and cherry flavors, which is the only way I’ll ever drink a slushy again. We’re watching five turkey vultures. People sometimes mistake them for red-tailed hawks. They soar in the sky, circling over where there’s something to eat. Red-tailed hawks are my favorite bird—Henrietta would agree with me–but vultures are pretty amazing in the way they’ve learned to adapt and endure over time. But I guess all living things have done that, humans too. And for humans the point is not to just survive, but how we choose to keep going, like Cheryllynn. She chooses to keep going by hanging out with me and bringing me a cherry and blueberry mixed slushy.

BIRD SPECIES/FEATURES: Turkey vulture, scientific name: Cathartes aura, they have a very acidic stomach, so they can handle high levels of bacteria and parasites in their food.

Extraordinary Birds: Take a Peek into December's Bird Journal
(Image via ebird.org, Photographer: Henry Burton)




WHO: Just me

OBSERVATIONS: Crows are supposed to be one of the most intelligent animals on earth, but right now the one I see is perched on the edge of a bird bath, not doing much of anything but pecking at the water, positioned in a spot where its feathers can absorb the warmth of the sun. Actually, a pretty smart place to be since winter will be here in a few weeks. Eleanor knows about crows, of course. She told me a story about one that the refuge took care of for a long time. They named him “Hank”. Hank couldn’t see very well. He got some sort of disease in his eyes, but he taught himself to use twigs to help him get around his cage. I think that’s amazing, but birds are pretty amazing creatures.

BIRD SPECIES/FEATURES: Crow, scientific name: Corvus, black feathers, a beak that adapted over time to hold tools to help them grab food

If you’re a bird lover like December, we think you’ll love reading The Simple Art of Flying by Cory Leonardo.

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