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Mama Built a Little Nest

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Mama Built a Little Nest Book Poster Image
Lively, poetic takes on different birds' nesting habits.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Fascinating facts about a wide variety of birds, their nests, and their offspring in varying locales, from city to wildlands, deserts to jungles, should inspire kids to be more attuned to the natural world and may inspire an interest in bird watching. An author's note includes a list of six websites for further study, such as audubon.org.  

Positive Messages

The underlying messages is that parents work hard to provide a safe place for their offspring to grow up. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The care birds take to build their nests and raise their young show they are dedicated, tireless mothers -- and in some cases fathers! -- who work hard to take care of their kids and give them the best shot at a long, happy, and healthy life. 

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jennifer Ward's Mama Built a Little Nest, illustrated by Kevin Jenkins (The Animal Book), is a fascinating nonfiction picture book that shows kids how different birds build their nests -- what materials they use and where they build them. Each bird is introduced with a clever, easy-to-understand four-line first-person poem, narrated by the baby bird in each case, complemented on the opposite page by a brief factual description of what's distinctive about how this type of bird raises its young. And dads help out, too -- like the emperor penguin, who keeps the mother's egg on his feet to keep it warm under his tummy folds for 60 days, or the cactus wren, who builds multiple dome-shaped nests on a prickly pear to attract a female. As spare and visually attractive as an Eric Carle book, Mama Built a Little Nest is a great intro to the natural world for budding science and nature lovers. 

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What's the story?

MAMA BUILT A LITTLE NEST profiles the nesting habits of a variety of birds in pithy first-person verse, ostensibly from the point of view of the baby bird. Lots of surprising facts about where birds raise their young -- on ledges, inside holes in trees, hanging off branches, burrowing underground, floating on water, etc. -- and what materials they use, from grass and twigs to spit and spiderwebs. Each spread offers a four-line poem on the left-hand page and a couple of lines or a paragraph of factual information on the right-hand one. It ends with a comforting view of a bedroom where a teddy bear's on the bed, and the last line of the poem reads: "your nest is called a bed."

Is it any good?

Each example in Mama Built a Little Nest is truly amazing and fascinating, and easy for little ones to grasp. The four-line poems are cleaver and fun while synthesizing how this nest is different from others, using words a kid can understand. For example, a baby hummingbird observes: "Mama built a little nest,/ a cup so wee and snug/, with walls of moss and roof of sky/ and silky cobweb rug."

Illustrator Steve Jenkins' mixed-media collages on a stark white background are spare, sharp, and clear, helping kids focus on what's distinctive about each type of bird and nest. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about birds. Do you ever watch them up close in your backyard, in the park, or on nature walks? Have you ever seen a nest? What was it made of? Was it in a tree? 

  • What's fun about learning about how creatures live and raise their young? What other books about animals or birds have you enjoyed? How does reading a book with science and nature facts compare with reading a made-up story? 

  • Take a walk and count how many different birds you see. Maybe a grown-up can tell you the names of the ones you see, or maybe you already know some of their names. Then draw a picture of your favorite bird.

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Themes & Topics

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