The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

Parrots Over Puerto Rico

Written by Susan Roth and Cindy Trumbore, Illustrated by Susan Roth
Published by Lee & Low Books, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-62014-004-8
Grades 2-8
Book Review
There is a great deal of talk in the world of children’s books today about the ways in which e- books and apps  can provide readers with a sense of the three-dimensional, how their interactive nature allows young readers to enter the world of “the book.” But then a book like Parrots Over Puerto Rico comes along which, through its format and fabric and paper collage art, renders a similar experience all within the pages of a traditional bound picture book. The cover image greets the reader with an up-close snapshot of parrots flying; it feels entirely possible to reach out and touch the birds’ blue flight feathers. Upon opening, one realizes that this combined survival narrative and history of Puerto Rico must be read vertically; the format is laid out so that the reader experiences a semblance of the height of the El Yunque rain forest. Puerto Rican parrots have lived on the island for millions of years; once numbering in the hundreds of thousands to upwards of a million, by 1975 only thirteen parrots remained. The chronological narrative structure provides a timeline of the peopling of the island over the years, from South Americans in 5000 BCE to the Tainos in 800 CE, Columbus in 1493, and the Spanish settlers who soon followed, bringing enslaved Africans to work the sugar fields. Throughout the narrative the shrinking number of parrots is noted, a consequence of disappearing rain forest habitat and hunting.  In 1968 the United States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico created the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program. Today, the number of Puerto Rican parrots in the wild is slowly growing as a result. Backmatter includes an afterword about the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program with color photographs, a detailed timeline to expand the loose one provided in the narrative itself, and source material. This is a marvelous book for bird lovers everywhere, and for those who root for the underdog. Ideal for exploration of the interrelationships between animals and their habitat, the concept of extinction, and conservation efforts worldwide, Parrots Over Puerto Rico can also serve as a mentor text for writing nonfiction in a chronological structure and/or with an innovative format.
Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom
Grades 2 -4 

  • Considering the Cover. Before reading the book, ask your students to explore just the front and back covers. Why isn’t the title anywhere on the cover? What do the images make them wonder about? What do they notice about the pictures? What is the significance of the small birds in the corner? Without those small birds, the book could be held any which way. How can we rethink covers of our own stories and how our pictures and layout can support readers to make meaning even without words?
  • Parrot Portraits. After reading Parrots Over Puerto Rico, provide students with information about other parrots around the world. Using EBSCO or Gale databases available to you through your state and local library systems (talk to your school or public librarian if you don’t know about this), make sure that each child has two or three short digital articles on a different breed of parrot. Or, work with your librarian to gather a range of survey books about  parrots from the school’s collection. Have students consider the following questions: Where does the parrot live? What is its habitat? What is happening to the habitat? Is the parrot considered endangered? Create a portrait gallery of parrots from around the world. Students can create paper and fabric collage illustrations in Roth’s style, and provide information “at a glance” on each of the parrots. As an extended writing activity, students could write poems to accompany their parrot portraits.
  • And Now? Nonfiction is out of date as soon as it is published; the world keeps on changing and book production still takes at least six months, but often longer, between when a manuscript is sent to be printed and when the books typically arrive. What is the status of the Puerto Rican parrot now? Explore some of the resources below, several of them found in the Author’s Resources section of the back matter.
  • Exploring Theme. Read Parrots Over Puerto Rico along with The Mangrove Tree (2011), also coauthored by Roth & Trumbore. What do your students see as a common theme working across both books? Why do they think the pair has collaborated on both of these books? How can theme help students understand author’s purpose?
  • Ripping and Tearing.  Read aloud these pages from Susan Roth’s webpage: http://www.susanlroth.com/cut_it_out.htm and http://www.susanlroth.com/my_tools.htm. Have students look at her illustrations from 1988 onward, and explore how she uses ripping and tearing as a process for art-making with paper and fabric. Have students research a topic about which they are passionate, and then create a nonfiction picture book using ripping and tearing as their process for illustration. Make sure to have a great deal of fabric and paper in the classroom to work with, along with scissors, tweezers, paste, and double-sided repositional tape. 
Grades 3-8 
  • Natural Disasters and Habitat Loss. The book explains that the devastation caused by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 endangered the protected Puerto Rican parrot populations in the El Yunque Rain Forest. Because of the storm, scientists realized that they had to create more than one aviary on Puerto Rico to foster the growth of the parrot population. What impact have recent natural disasters had on birds and other animals in your part of the world? How have recent floods, wild fires, hurricanes, tornadoes or blizzards impacted wildlife locally? What needs to happen next and how can your students help with those efforts?
  • Endangered Birds. This book discusses the near-extinction of one kind of parrot in Puerto Rico. But what is happening to birds in your part of country or your part of the world? Contact your local Fish & Wildlife Service office in the US or a local Audubon chapter, and find out the names of 2 or 3 birds that may be struggling for survival in your region. Have your students research those birds in small groups and create a public advocacy campaign, to raise awareness, and perhaps to raise money, too. Think about recording students reading their writing as a podcast to share on your town or city’s webpage or school’s webpage.
  •  Can Endangered Animals Be Saved? Have students read about ongoing efforts to save other types of animals that face extinction. Depending on the age of your students, a combination of some of the following might work. For the intermediate grades, some books with positive outcomes: The Eagles are Back, The Wolves are Back, and The Buffalo are Back. For the middle grades, some books with a less hopeful prognosis for the animals: Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot, The Tapir Scientist,  and The Race to Save the Lord God Bird. Similar to the above research that focuses exclusively on endangered birds, have your students research more about efforts to save these creatures from extinction. Have students create a series of detailed, well-informed questions to pose to your local representative in Congress and your two senators, to find out what the United States government is doing to help, and what role, if any, the government should have in these efforts.
  • Writing Nonfiction. After reading Parrots Over Puerto Rico, have your students examine its chronological text structure. Within that structure, there are some cause-effect structures at work, and problem-solution as well. Have students identify these structures at work, and then explore Melissa Stewart’s A Place for Birds, and its cause-effect, problem-solution text structures within an overall expository structure. Have students write their own nonfiction about birds consciously adopting one or several of these different text structures.
  • Citizen Science. After reading Parrots Over Puerto Rico, introduce Lorree Griffin Burns’ Citizen Scientist. How can your students serve as citizen scientists? Check out the Audubon Society’s 114thChristmas Bird Count and see how your students can participate locally at: http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count

Grades 7-8

  • What is a Commonwealth? Parrots Over Puerto Rico discusses the political history of the island as well as the natural history.  Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth of the United States. In the timeline in the backmatter, it states that “Spain loses War of 1898; gives Puerto Rico to the United States,”  that in 1917 “Puerto Ricans become citizens of the United States,” and that in “1952 Puerto Rico becomes United States commonwealth.”  What does it mean to “give” land, and the people who live on it, to another country? Why is Puerto Rico a commonwealth and not a state? Who benefits from this status? Who decides? Have students research these questions in order to understand the history of Puerto Rico and its political status, by choice, as a commonwealth. Students may want to look at the webpage of Puerto Rico’s representative in the US House of Representatives: http://pierluisi.house.gov/.
Explore other teaching ideas in previous Classroom Bookshelf entries about Birds and Endangered species at:
The Case of the Vanishing Honeybee
Look Up! Birdwatching in Your Own Backyard
Bird Talk: What Birds are Saying and Why
Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story
Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot
Wow! Ocean and Coral Reefs
No Monkey, No Chocolate
Further Explorations
Online Resources

Susan Roth’s Official Website
Cindy Kane/Trumbore’s Official Website

 

World Parrot Trust
Parrots International
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources
EBSCO Databases (Though best to look at your school/public library webpage first!)
Gale Databases (Though best to look at your school/public library webpage first!)
Cornell Ornithology Lab
National Audubon Society
“A Fighting Chance: The Puerto Rican Parrot Makes a Comeback,” Audubon Magazine, September-October 2009
US Fish & Wildlife Service: The Puerto Rican Parrot
The Lincoln Park Zoo & the Puerto Rican Parrot
Associated Press: August 2013, “Puerto Rican Parrot Makes Major Comeback”
PBS Nature: Parrots in the Land of Oz: Parrots in Danger
Books
Bouler, O. (2011). Olivia’s birds: Saving the gulf. New York: Sterling.
Burnie, D. {2003). Bird. [DK Eyewitness Books]. New York: Doris Kindersley.
Burns, L.G. (2012). Citizen scientists: Be a part of scientific discovery from your own backyard. Ill. by E. Harasimowicz. New York: Macmillan.
Cate, A. L. (2013). Look up! Birdwatching in your own backyard. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
George, J.C. (2010). The buffalo are back. Ill. by W. Minor. New York: Dutton.
George, J.C. (2013). The eagles are back. Ill. by W. Minor. New York: Dutton.
George, J.C. (2008). The wolves are back. Ill. by W. Minor. New York: Dutton.
Hoose, P. (2004). The race to save the Lord God Bird. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.
Judge, L. (2011). Bird talk: What birds are saying and why. New York: Flash Point, Roaring Brook Press.
Montgomery, Sy. (2013). The tapir scientist. Ill. by N. Bishop. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Montgomery, Sy. (2010). Kakapo rescue: Saving the world’s strangest parrot. Ill. by N. Bishop. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Roth, S., Trumbore, C. (2011). The mangrove tree: Planting trees to save families. Ill. by S. Roth. New York: Lee and Low.
Spinner, S. (2012). Alex the parrot: No ordinary bird. Ill. by Meilo So. New York: Knopf.
Stewart, M. (2009). A place for birds. Ill. by H. Bond. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree Publications.
Mary Ann Cappiello About Mary Ann Cappiello

Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.