Birds are everywhere at the New-York Historical Society right now! The second floor of our museum has been taken over by Part II of our tripartite series, Audubon’s Aviary, which features many of John James Audubon’s original watercolors for his revolutionary work, The Birds of America. This year, we are showing works that relate to the peak of Audubon’s career when he began to become concerned about disappearing wildlife and wanted to protect it. Today, we call people like Audubon conservationists.
Audubon wouldn’t have used the word “conservationist” to describe himself because this word, this idea, did not exist when he was alive (1785-1851). Most Americans in Audubon’s time thought that plant and animal life in this country was so abundant no species could ever disappear; however, through his work, Audubon witnessed habitats being destroyed and shrinking bird populations. He saw the future, and it did not look promising.
To honor Audubon’s work and insight, the Reading into History Family Book Club here at the DiMenna Children’s History Museum has been reading Phillip Hoose’s multi-award-winning book The Race to Save The Lord God Bird this month. This amazing book is about the 200-year struggle to save the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (nicknamed the Lord God Bird) from extinction. Audubon painted this marvelous bird and was an early advocate for its preservation. When the book club meets on Sunday, May 4, Phillip Hoose will join us to discuss the book, and we’ll all visit the exhibition to see a couple of other birds Audubon painted that are now extinct.
To get everyone in the mood for this exciting family program, we interviewed Phillip Hoose about his life and this book. Check out what he has to say:
DiMenna Children’s History Museum: What is your favorite time period in American history?
Phillip Hoose: The 20th Century. Why? I suppose because I’ve been alive to participate in much of it. I’m familiar with the century’s great struggles. I remember, for example, that Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring focused on the struggle to halt the loss of species. I had never really thought about this before reading that book.
DCHM: What were you like between the ages of 9 and 12?
PH: Private. I lived in my head. I was mouthy enough, but it was all a smokescreen to keep people from penetrating my defenses.
DCHM: What is your favorite place in New York City?
PH: The big sunny upstairs gallery at the NYC Art Students League, on 57th. Why? I love the feel of the room, its creaky wooden floor (when you’re trying to be quiet) and the chance to see dozens of bright paintings done by art students. Sometimes six different students will paint one model, which tells you more about the students than the model.
DCHM: What made you want to write The Race to Save the Lord God Bird?
PH: I worked for The Nature Conservancy, an organization that saves species by protecting habitats. I wanted to write about my work through the story of a single creature’s struggle to survive—and of efforts by humans to save it.
DCHM: What three words best describe The Race to Save the Lord God Bird?
PH: Surprising, frustrating, inspiring.
Do you have your own questions for Phillip Hoose? Come ask them on Sunday May 4 at 3 pm (and get your book signed!). This book club meeting, like all the rest, is free with museum admission and is recommended for families with children ages 9-12. See you this Sunday!
The Reading into History family book club is supported by a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post and/or in Reading into History programs do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.