Virginia W. Dike's Birds of Our Land (Cassava Republic Press, 2010 (first pub., 1986); 40) is an illustrative and colourful book on birds found in Nigeria and by extension, perhaps, across West Africa. This carefully written book provides insights into the habitat, habit, identification, and nature of several birds including the Plantain Eater, Parrot, Kite, Sunbird, Egret, Finch, Guinea Fowl, Crow, Coucal, Owl, Pipit, Mannikin, Whydah, Thrush, Kingfish, Roller and more. The book is directed towards young children, probably between the ages of five and fifteen; however, adults could learn a lot from if for how many of us know the birds we have been seeing by name. However, through the clear picturesque illustration by Robin Gowen one is able to identify several of these known birds by name and description.
The book opens with a definition of a bird accompanied by a well-labelled illustration. Following from there is a brief description of the birds, systematically, with each bird followed by its illustrative representation. The text is precise, poetic, and seems to tell a story. The sounds that these birds make have been carried through. The names of the birds have been translated into three main Nigerian languages: Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. And the reader could perhaps compare these translations with what they call it in his or her own native language, if he or she has one. For instance, a Parrot is called Ayekooto in Yoruba, Icheoku in Igbo and Aku in Hausa; in Ghana the Akan Twi speakers call it Akoo. I couldn't help but notice the similar sounds the name has among all the local languages, the alliteration and assonance is not oblivious to the reader.
Though this book is geared towards developing the scientific knowledge and conservation concerns (or habit) of the reader from a tender age, it could also serve as a reading book due to the simplicity of the text and the beauty of the write. None of the words used are difficult and beyond pronunciation. The author did well to do away with the jaw-breaking scientific names these birds carry, relying instead on the common names.
After describing twenty-five birds, the author concluded with a checklist for bird watchers and how to help in the conservation of bird population and bird habitat. Knowledge of this is very important even as we struggle to understand the world we live in and make the best use of it whilst protecting it for posterity. The author, Virginia Dike, also provided a list of what to look for when observing a bird. To conclude this, it is best to quote the author
This book aims to: (1) familiarise children with their environment by introducing the variety of birds around them; (2) help build habits of careful observation; (3) stimulate inquiry about the natural world; and (4) develop communication and critical thinking skills. Its use can help children acquire language and mathematical skills by expanding their vocabulary and providing opportunities for classification and measurement.
And in forty pages the book does this and more. This comprehensive book, with guides to both parents and educators, is likely to build the reader in more ways than one. Whilst acquiring scientific knowledge, the reader will at the same time be appreciating the environment within which he or she lives and appreciating language also. This is very much recommended.