Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday

Here at Teach Mentor Texts we are always looking for more ways to support teachers! We've found that teachers seem to be constantly on the lookout for great nonfiction. We know we are! To help with this undying quest for outstanding non-fiction, we are excited to participate in Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and The Nonfiction Detectives. Every Wednesday, you'll find a non-fiction review here - although it may not always be a picture book review. Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy and The Nonfiction Detectives to see what non-fiction others have to share, too.

Title: Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird
Author: Stephanie Spinner
Illustrator: Meilo So
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October, 2012
Genre/Format: Non-fiction/Picture Book
Goodreads Summary: In 1977, graduate student Irene Pepperberg walked into a pet store and bought a year-old African grey parrot. Because she was going to study him, she decided to call him Alex--short for Avian Learning EXperiment. At that time, most scientists thought that the bigger the brain, the smarter the creature; they studied great apes and dolphins. African greys, with their walnut-sized "birdbrains," were pretty much ignored--until Alex. 
     His intelligence surprised everyone, including Irene. He learned to count, add, and subtract; to recognize shapes, sizes, and colors; and to speak, and understand, hundreds of words. These were things no other animal could do. Alex wasn't supposed to have the brainpower to do them, either. But he did them anyway.
     Accompanied by Meilo So's stunning illustrations, Alex and Irene's story is one of groundbreaking discoveries about animal intelligence, hard work, and the loving bonds of a unique friendship.
What Jen Thinks: Reading non-fiction or historical fiction when I learn about something new or see a new perspective on something is always great. For me, Alex's story was completely new. I knew nothing about Alex and was excited to read about him. I love the part where they compare him to a horse who people thought was smart but the horse wasn't thinking and responding the way that Alex was. 
     I think animals are fascinating and I love stories that celebrate how much we should recognize that animals have rights, too. Most animals can't speak for themselves and we need to be their voices. It's imperative that we remember this and I love how this story brings Alex and his story to life. 
What Kellee Thinks: Through my fascination with apes, I have learned quite a bit about language acquisition, intelligence and apes. This nonfiction picture book takes a look at these topics from a whole different direction- parrots. Growing up my father always wanted a parrot and specifically an African Grey because of its intelligence. This was my extent of knowledge of these animals until picking up this book and I will say that I am now so intrigued by African Grey Parrots and specifically Alex (I googled him and watched many videos and read more about him before writing this review). 
     Alex the Parrot takes us chronologically through Alex's life and Irene's study of his language and intelligence acquisition. Alex far exceeded all hopes that Irene had and proved anyone doubting the intelligence of animals wrong. I am not sure why Alex isn't always discussed when Washoe and Koko are because he did what they are able to do and more!
     I can definitely see this book being used in middle grade classrooms and being a favorite of many students and teachers. It will start a great discussion about intelligence, language, emotions and animals vs. people. 
Read Together: Grades 2 to 12
Read Alone: Grades 4 to 7
Read With: Alex and Me by Irene Pepperberg, Non-fiction books about animals acquiring language as well as fictional books that include animals acquiring language such as Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby, Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Snatch of Text: "Alex was a great student. And as he learned more words, he lost his shyness. In fact, he turned into a very bossy parrot. He let everybody know what he wanted, pretty much all of the time. 
     "Want nut!" and "Want banana!" were two of his favorite commands. "Wanna go back!" was another. It meant he was tired of working and ready for a break. 
     "Alex made it very clear that he liked to be obeyed. If he asked for a grape and got a banana, somebody was going to end up with a banana facial. 
     It wasn't long before "no" became one of Alex's favorite words, too." (p. 16)
Mentor Text for: Debate, Research, Expository, Personal Narrative
Writing Prompts: The debate continues about if Alex acquired language or not - what do you think? Was Alex speaking? Did he learn to speak? Or was he just imitating? Back up your side with research and examples. Write about a time in your life when something went differently than what you expected.
Topics Covered: Language, Language Acquisition, Animals, Intelligence, Parrots
Jen *hearts* It:
Kellee *hearts* It:
**Thank you to Random House for providing us a copy of Alex the Parrot for review**

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