Kid Review: Harriet’s Ruffled Feathers: The Woman Who Saved Millions of Birds by Joy McCullough

 

About This Book:

 

Meet the inspiring woman whose love of fashion led her to start a conservation movement and found the Massachusetts Audubon Society in this lively picture book biography.

Harriet Lawrence Hemenway loved hats. She loved them with ribbons and flowers, embroidery and pearls. And feathers! What was better than a hat with grand, glorious feathers? But then Harriet discovered that millions of birds died so that she and her friends could soar at the height of style. A passion for fashion was one thing, but this was feather-brained!

So Harriet led the charge to take feathers out of fashion, getting laws passed that made it illegal to buy or sell wild bird feathers. In 1896, she and her fellow bird protectors founded the Massachusetts Audubon Society, which grew into a national organization that still protects birds today! Additional information about conservation can be found in the backmatter of this engaging picture book.

 

*Review Contributed by Karen Yingling, Staff Reviewer*

 

Hats off to Harriet!

 

In the late 1800s, hats were an important fashion statement, and they were trimmed with all manner of decorations. When young Harriet learned that 5 millions birds died every year to provide feathers for these millinery creations, she was appalled. Along with her cousin Minna, she sought to raise awareness about this destructive waste. She spread the word, led boycotts of feathered hats, and was able to spread her message as far as London, where Queen Victoria vowed to stop wearing hats with feathers. Not wanting to stop there, Harriet and Minna enlisted prominent people from many different professions to start a group that would protect avian wildlife. Naming their organization about John James Audubon, who was famous for his paintings of birds, they set about to advocate for conservation laws, and fought for the creation of federal bird reservations. Because of their work, the clothing industry is not dependent on killing birds for decoration, and the Audubon organization still works to protect birds and their environs.

Good Points
This is a fascinating piece of history that I didn’t know anything about, and I love that the author came across this information while researching background for her middle grade novel, Across the Pond, which includes characters who are interested in bird watching. I knew about Audubon’s paintings (Thanks to Gary Schmidt’s 2011 Okay for Now), but nothing about the organization named after the artist. Women were becoming politically active in the late 1800s, and it’s rather amazing how many interesting social initiatives women were able to start!

The illustrations have lots of details, and a beautiful, spring-like color palette. The period dresses and hats give young readers a good idea about how different fashions were. There are also plentiful pictures of birds, and these have so many specifics that I was able to identify a number of them! There’s something especially appealing about the faces. I would have liked to have seen a photograph of Harriet and Minna, but understand that getting rights to these images can be difficult. Looking online for these, I found a painted portrait of Harriet… by John Singer Sargent, so we know she must have been very well off!

It’s good to see the inclusion of a variety of historical and political figures in the book, and I appreciated that the years were given as well. This is just an overview of the movement and organization, but is great for young readers who want to know about history and the role of women in social activism. When my daughters were young, they always enjoyed picture book biographies like Ryan’s Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride, Rockliff’s Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 miles, and Kulling’s Spic and Span: Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen. It’s good to see a growing number of these books hit the market.

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