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  • Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird
  • Deborah Stevenson
Spinner, Stephanie . Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird; illus. by Meilo So. Knopf, 2012. 40p. Library ed. ISBN 978-0-375-96846-4 $20.99 Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-375-86846-7 $17.99 R Gr. 2-4.

This slender picture-book biography chronicles the life of Alex, the African grey parrot whose ability to learn language challenged scientific beliefs and made him a popular and beloved figure. The book begins with Irene Pepperberg's acquisition of Alex in 1977 and describes the process she used to teach him and the behavioral testing he underwent. It also describes Alex in his daily life as he began putting short phrases together and dealt imperiously with the lab assistants and a new young parrot; it's that parrot, Griffin, with whom Pepperberg has worked since Alex's death in 2007. Spinner is a veteran author who tells Alex's tale with verve and accessibility, highlighting details (like his delight in the word "No" and his sibling rivalry) that make the bird into a particularly kid-appealing character. Animals always seem to bring out the best in Meilo So (as in her illustrations for Prelutsky's Beauty of the Beast, BCCB 1/98); her mixed-media art varies from intricately crafted portraits of Alex that give tactile, designerly significance to each of his feathers, to freewheeling outlines of humans and a vivid, '70s-inspired palette that uses Alex's gray as an anchor for a near-psychedelic rainbow of hues. Many kids convinced of the wisdom of their dogs or cats won't have thought about birds, and Alex's lively character here makes him both an interesting subject and an effective ambassador for his kind. There is no bibliography or notes, but Spinner's author's note is a compelling and heartfelt musing on humanity's desire to communicate with animals.



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