When Western Carolina University associate biology professor Jeremy Hyman was approached about writing his first children’s book, the topic was simple.
Most of Hyman’s research has centered on the behavior of birds. Because of that, he immediately thought of a host of interesting stories to tell about things birds can do that most people wouldn’t normally consider.
Hyman’s book, “Bird Brains: The Wild & Wacky World of Birds,” was released April 10. Its target audience is children ages 8 to 11.
One story Hyman enjoyed telling is how male songbirds, such as sparrows, warblers and finches, learn their songs. Hyman said they are not born knowing how to produce those vocalizations; rather, they have to hear other males making the sounds and learn how to produce them.
“They’re essentially capable of learning the songs of their neighbors, too, so they can recognize all of their neighbors,” Hyman said. “In a neighborhood of birds, they all understand who their neighbors are and understand where they’re supposed to be. Just in the simple act of singing a song, there are all sorts of communication going on between males, between males and females, that you might not normally think of.”
Addressing an audience other than college-age students was a different experience for Hyman, but one that he enjoyed.
“One of the first things that surprised me is that in class I make a lot of jokes and I’m trying to keep the kid’s attention and make sure that they’re focused on the material,” Hyman said. “But there aren’t a lot of jokes in this book. It’s a pretty straightforward treatment of the science. In a way, it was a lot more like writing a scientific paper than teaching a class. It was just using language that was more appropriate for children.”
Most of his feedback so far has come from colleagues whose research is highlighted in the book. He sent them all PDF’s of the book to get their input.
“So far, everybody has told me that they really liked the way that their research story was told,” Hyman said. “A lot of them that have kids said they were buying it for them, or for nieces and nephews. That made me happy to hear. Also, a lot of my adult friends also bought it. It’s been amusing to hear them tell me about the new things they’ve learned about birds.”
But Hyman said the best feedback came from his postdoctoral adviser, who expressed to him how much he liked the book.
“He was always a tough crowd when I was a graduate student in his lab,” Hyman said. “There’s work of his former students that is featured in it, so I knew that I really had to get it right so that he would be happy with it.”
Hyman said he has several other ideas for future children’s books related to animal behavior, ecology and evolution.
“I don’t know that I’ll do it again, but it was fun to get the opportunity to do it once,” Hyman said.
The book can be purchased at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Walmart and Target.