Wednesday 23 November 2016

AusReading Month: Silvertail: The Story of a Lyrebird by Ina Watson; illustrations by Walter Cunningham (1946)

Silvertail is a lyrebird. As everything has a beginning, I am going to start by telling you where Silvertail lived, and about his people, for of course he had a family just as you have.

Silvertail, a superb lyrebird, was born in a forest deep in the hills of Southern Victoria. Suberb lyrebirds (Menura novaehollandiae) are ground dwelling birds that have an amazing ability to mimic other birds - the calls of scrub wrens, parrots, kookaburras, cockatoos and whip-birds, are to be found in their repertoire. Although they can fly, their wings are rounded and not suited to any great distance. They build their nests in old tree stumps and roost in trees at night.

Silvertails's father and mother had a real name - one belonging to their family. They were called Mr. and Mrs. Menura...
They were a handsome couple...But the pride of the family was father's tail. It was very long and consisted of sixteen feathers...two broad, outside ones...twelve, very fluffy filmy feathers, and two lone, wire-like centre ones. On top they were the same colour as the rest of the bird, but underneath they were a beautiful silvery white.

The story of Silvertail began with nest prepartions mostly carried out by Mrs Menura while Mr Menura spent his time building his dancing mounds. A few weeks after the nest had been completed,  a solitary egg was laid in the nest and about six weeks afterwards Silvertail hatched out of his shell.
He spent about five weeks in his nest and then it was time for him to leave his cozy, safe home and begin the most dangerous part of his life. His mother taught him to find his own food and began to acquaint him with some of the other animals and birds that lived nearby and to avoid others such as the wily fox.


Mr Menura didn't spend too much time with his offspring at first, although he kept an eye out nearby for both the youngster and his mother; but as Silvertail grew, his father began to take more of an interest in him and to teach him how to sing. He also taught Silvertail how to use his tail in the dance but it would be a little while yet before he could boast a tail like his father's.
The seasons came and went, Silvertail grew and then one day, Silvertail found a mate...

Through all his own calls and the many others that he could now mimic perfectly, he pleaded his cause...

Silvertail is a delightful story written in such a way that a five or six year old would enjoy. There is just enough detail, depth and factual information embedded in the lively narrative for that age group and Walter Cunningham's illustrations enhance it even more.
In the foreword to the book, Australian naturalist, Crosbie Morrison writes:

Miss Ina not just a casual caller on the Lyrebirds of Sherbrooks; over the years she has become a friend of the family. She knows them so intimately that they no longer whip off their aprons and stuff them behind a chair and show her into the front room when she calls - they let her come into the kitchen, as it were, and help with the washing up. It is not until you know people - or birds - like that that you can write of them easily, and naturally, and entrancingly, and truthfully, as Miss Watson has done.

The book is out of print but available secondhand (eBay & AbeBooks)

Some links of interest:

Lyrebirds Mimicking Chainsaws?

Lyrebird Facts

The Royal Australian Mint - the suberb lyrebird is featured on our Australian ten cent coin.

Winter Call of the Lyrebirds

Linking up at Brona's Books for the AusReading Month 2016. Come and have a look if you're looking for some great Australian titles to read.


Brona said...

Cunningham's illustrations are gorgeous!
I've never heard of this one before - thanks for bringing it to light again :-)

There are a quite a few modern picture books about human families raising native animals now (Sebastian Lives in a Hat, Jeremy, Jackie French's Diary of a Wombat books) but not very many that are told from the perspective of the animal in question.

Carol said...

I have quite a few older books that Walter Cunningham has illustrated and they've all been good. The publisher must have had a gift for lining him up with the right authors.