Is This Panama?
written by Jan Thornhill; illustrated by Soyeon Kim
2013 (Owlkids Books)
Source: Mebane Public Library
Sammy is a Wilson’s Warbler that lives near the Arctic Circle. He notices frost on the leaves early one August morning. Sammy thinks to himself that it’s time to migrate. He doesn’t know exactly when to do this since he’s never migrated before. Looking for other warblers, Sammy notices that they are all gone. (Reviewer’s note: Apparently Sammy missed the morning memo about finding a migration buddy for the trip to Panama.) Having to do the Lindy and go solo, Sammy asks a caribou if he is heading the right way. The caribou concurs, but also mentions that he has no clue where Panama is located. He’s simply going south to his winter forest home where he can more easily scoop off lichens with his hooves. As the book progresses, Sammy meets a succession of animals that help him find his way. Sandhill cranes give him a lift on their way to Texas. After narrowly avoiding becoming an early bird special for a garter snake (I write this blog to crack myself up. Sometimes I’m the only one who reads it. Cue Eleanor Rigby and her face in a jar.), Sammy keeps company with dragonflies. Later he meets up with a flock of warbler cousins who follow the stars and migrate at night. Other migrating animals to meet his acquaintance include monarch butterflies, a Hudsonian godwit ( A real bird, but I would have guessed it came from the Harry Potter series), humpback whales, and other migrating birds. Eventually, Sammy finds himself in Panama as a happy but exhausted bird.
Is This Panama? would be a good companion piece to a nonfiction text about migration. With a K-1 audience, I would read it over two days since there is a lot of story to be told. It will be important to explicitly tell students that this is a piece of fiction so they don’t confuse fictional elements with informational text. The story and illustrations are engaging so you may have better luck teaching about migration by adding this book than by solely relying on an informational text. I really liked the back matter with extra information about the migrating animals, a great piece on how animals migrate, and a map showing the migration pattern of the Wilson’s Warbler. I would think about reading the “How Animals Migrate” back matter piece before reading the fictional narrative. I write this blog to share info about good books. Is This Panama? certainly fits the bill (lame bird pun) of an entertaining and informative book.