Schulman, J. (2008). Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Appetizer: This picture book shares the true story of Pale Male, the red-tailed hawk who made his home in New York City and struggled to survive as more and more bird watchers cheered him on.
The watercolor illustrations (done by Meilo So) are beautiful, capturing the beauty of New York City well, and adding in some humorous caricatures of people for contrast. While most of the paintings are done in pale colors, the splashes of bright colors draw the reader's eye to them.
What impressed me the most about this book was how the author, Janet Shulman, managed to slide in a lot of information in a very causal and graceful way. There's a lot of information in Pale Male for the reader to take away, and it's very possible they won't even realize that they're learning it.
"One crisp autumn day in 1991, a red-tailed hawk flew across the Hudson River from New Jersey. He flew over smokestacks, skyscrapers, and ant-like traffic to a rectangular oasis smack in the center of New York City. The hawk soared above Central Park."
"Pale Male hung around the park the way a teenager hangs out at a mall. He dive-bombed tasty pigeons and rats at their litter-can snack bars. He chased after ducks and was spotted terrorizing squirrels, seemingly just for the fun of it. As red-tailed hawks go, he was a teenager."
"Bird experts had never heard of a red-tailed hawk with its nest on a building in the center of a bustling city. Maybe Pale Male wasn't too smart.
But soon they saw that this bird was actually very smart. Metal spikes had been embedded in the ledge above the window to keep pigeons away. By forcing sticks and branches between these spikes, the hawks made a nest that could withstand hurricane winds."
To Go with the Meal:
There are many ways this picture book could be used, including to discuss the layout of New York city and of Central Park, the behavior and growth cycle of birds and more specifically red-tailed hawks, the hobby of bird watching, the way nature can thrive in urban environments, laws that protect animals, the connection people feel toward some animals, those who choose to go against the norm, etc.
(Note--when addressing environmental laws, the text does include a vague critique of the Bush administration's policies)
Since this book is rather text-heavy, it'd probably have to be used as a read aloud with early elementary students, before encouraging students to flip through the book by themselves.
I think this would be a good book to pair with the picturebook Hook, by Ed Young. It also shares the way a hawk grows in an environment and interacts with a person. There are a lot of differences between the texts, including the amount of works on a page, the setting and focus (Hook is not an information text and shows chickens communicating with Hook the hawk). A teacher could read Pale Male aloud and then help students to read Hook on their own. A teacher can focus upon the fact that in both books, hawks learn how to fly and don't give up despite their failures or the risks they face.
To go a completely different direction, after reading Pale Male, a teacher could assign students to research other celebrity animals, sharing not only why that beastie is famous but also some information about that type of animal.
Another option would be to share Pale Male before going on a class bird watching trip. Did anybody else's school have that kind of field trip or was I alone in having that childhood experience?
Tasty Rating: !!!