What The Parrot Told Alice
by Dale Smith
More about Alice...
Read what Jane Goodal says about this book:
Told from the perspective of a pet parrot, this easy-to-read story is about the impact habitat loss and the illegal pet trade have on conservation and the environment. The book shows children how their small voices can become one big voice heard around the world.
"What the Parrot Told Alice" is not only delightful-it is inspired. So much information told in such an imaginative and utterly fascinating way. I shall recommend it to all our "Roots & Shoots" groups... its message is almost identical to that given to Alice by Bo Parrot.
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Book review that appeared in Birdtalk Magazine.
When I was first told about What the Parrot Told Alice, a book targeted toward young people, written by Dale Smith and illustrated by John Bardwell, I expected a short story about a girl and her parrot who both go on some sort of fun adventure. Never did I guess that I would be reading a novel of such moving content-a novel that deals with the international concerns of the illegal importation of wild parrots and macaws. It just goes to show, you never can judge a book by its reading level.
The story, set in 1996, is about a 12-year-old girl named Alice who comes to realize the importance of conservation with the help of her Eclectus parrot, Bobo. This Eclectus is actually a boy named Manao, who was transformed (magically, of course) into an Eclectus 30 years before, when he was living in the Siwai tribe. Manao had disrespected the delicate connection of all living things and had to learn to appreciate this association by experiencing it directly. Only when he understood this bond and had passed the knowledge onto others would he return to his human form.
The entire book focuses on Bobo explaining to Alice how people exhaust wild parrot populations because of greed-smuggling birds to America for profit. Several other psittacine characters also tell how they arrived in the pet market. Some of these narratives are heart wrenching because they aren't just tales in a book. There is truth to all of them. One of the characters is a Spix's macaw (Simon), a severely endangered species native to a small area in northeastern Brazil. There are only about 30 to 40 individuals remaining and only a single male left in the wild (this male is the one that speaks with Alice). I recall the first time I read about these macaws. It was an article about the efforts to recover their population, and it had shocked me because I had never heard of this species. I felt as if an entire species had almost slipped by me, a bird about which I never knew and that would soon be gone forever. Smith uses this tragedy to emphasize the drastic effects human carelessness can have on the environment, and that it is immeasurably foolish to wait until a species is nearly lost before making concerted efforts to preserve it.
"It's much too late for me, Alice," said Simon. "But you can help. You must help. There are many other species in danger of extinction-not only parrots, but other animals, and other plants and other insects. Every one of them is important to the health of this planet, and who knows what secrets they hold?" Smith directs What the Parrot Told Alice to the perfect audience--young children, the next generation to affect the planet for better or for worse. He reemphasized the conservation moral frequently and clearly explains why it is so important that children become aware of the present-day environmental problems. Smith often uses phrases such as, "It's up to you, and kids like you, to change the way humans live on the earth." This quote is taken from the mouth of an African Grey, Jocko, speaking to Alice.
I think it is very incisive of Smith to state that some parrot lovers are just as much the cause of the wild parrot demise as are the people who physically smuggle the birds. Joaquin, a captive-bred blue-fronted Amazon, say this quite clearly: "You see Alice, bird lovers create the demand for parrots. They don't realize it, but they are the reason that a man in Mexico, or Brazil, or Zaire, climbs a tree and steals a baby parrot from its nest...People who want a pet parrot should buy a parrot like me, one born and raised in captivity..." The book has a way of making the problem more immediate--not something of another time an place upon which one can have no effect. Throughout the book Smith incorporated suggestions as to how wild parrot populations could be more effectively maintained.
This dialogue is simple and brings out the personality of the various psittacine characters efficiently, but in some areas it is unrealistic. The way the parrots and macaws explain the moral of their stories to Alice after every narrative doesn't fit well into normal speech and gets overly predictable. Predictability is a major aspect of What the Parrot Told Alice, but considering the targeted audience and purpose of this novel, it isn't a terrible flaw. Smith incorporates scientific facts into the book, which gives it a nice touch. At the end, there is even a diagram showing the anatomy of a parrot. Smith includes a glossary of "not-so-common words" (which makes this book readable for even fourth and fifth graders, since the words are not difficult), and a list of avicultural and environmental organizations that can be contacted for more information. It just begs kids to get involved, as does the entire novel in general.
What the Parrot Told Alice proves to be much more than a children's story. It is a message to anyone of any age about the importance of preserving life--not just birds, but every living creature on the planet.
Emma Greig is a 14-year-old aviculturist who has been breeding birds for six years. She lives in Michigan.
"What the Parrot Told Alice is a remarkable story, founded on fact. It is destined to awaken the conscience of young people to crucial issues of our time, such as habitat destruction and exploitation of wildlife. It deserves to be read (and will be greatly enjoyed) by all thinking people from nine to 90. It is so much more than a children's story - it is a cry from the heart of one of an increasing band of forward-looking individuals who understands the destruction of the world's resources must be halted quickly, and that this can be done only by educating today's young people." Dale Smith's imaginative and thoughtful story will long live in the minds of all who read it."
author of Parrots:
Their Care and Breeding, and Endangered Parrots
"Dale Smith has put the unique parrot-human dialogue squarely on the table. Aside from its value as a wildlife conservation tool, What the Parrot Told Alice is an overdue testament to the vital and profound "communique from the wild" that is being delivered in ordinary households the world over. No other wild creature posseses this psychic compatibility and willingness to share their undomesticated lives and love in our alien world. Thanks to Dale Smith and our psittacine primal link."
aviculturist, explorer, inventor
"What the Parrot Told Alice educates and entertains young readers as it introduces today's key environmental issues. Parrots are a natural vehicle for endangered species lessons. The chain of environmental accountability is sensitively and effectively presented in this magical book."
Ancient Forest International
A book review of that appeared in the January 1998 issue of Humane Education News, the newsletter of the United Federation of Teachers Humane Education Committee.
Reviewed by Jacqueline Muratore
Target audience of "What the Parrot Told Alice" is: 12-15 years old. This book teaches about rain forest ecology around the world; describes wildlife living in endangered areas of the world as well as animals found in a suburban backyard; has likable characters; raises some moral and ethical concerns; and each chapter has definitions for what may be new words.
We highly recommend this book for students in grades 4 to 12 and for adults as well. This book deals with important issues including habitat destruction, extinction and exploitation of wildlife. The underlying goal is to encourage readers to become involved in saving animals and the earth.
This profound story begins in the Solomon Islands 30 years ago. Manao, a twelve-year-old boy, had just cut down the biggest tree in their rain forest. An action so thoughtless could not go unnoticed in his village which depended upon the delicate balance of all living things in their forest. Consequently, the village magician decreed that the boy's spirit from that day forward would inhabit the body of a forest dweller--a parrot. What better way could he learn to appreciate conservation than through the eyes of a parrot?
Along with his new identity, he would be given a gift. He would be able to exchange his thoughts with a human being in order to share his message--the message that balance and harmony that must exist between humans and the wild world. But, there was a catch. He could choose only one human to whom he could pass on this gift of awareness. Only if that human would then do something to make a difference in the world would Manao be set free. So he knew he had better choose his human wisely.
And so we follow Manao as he hatches from an egg, is smuggled into Texas, is purchased from a pet store and ends up in California in 1996 in the home of a girl named Alice. Alice turned out to be the perfect human to learn about the drastic effects human carelessness can have on the environment. And like Alice, the readers of this book can learn how they can affect the planet for better or for worse. In fact, just by buying the book, they have made a difference. (A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book go toward acquisition of wildlife habitat.) In addition, there are three pages of resources of avicultural and environmental organizations listed in the back of the book, along with a diagram showing the anatomy of a parrot and a glossary of "not-so-common words."
As you've probably already gathered, this is not your average children's story, nor is it your average plea for environmental accountability. As entertaining as it is enlightening and educational, this is an extraordinarily imaginative and magical book. (9-12 yrs.)
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