The Backyard Bird Chronicles


By: Amy Tan

Published: April 23, 2024

Publisher: Knopf


5 stars

You might know Amy Tan from her award-winning book, THE JOY LUCK CLUB, and numerous other novels. But, I bet you didn’t know she was a bird lover and an amazing illustrator. In her newest book, Tan chronicles the comings and goings of birds in her own backyard along with intricately detailed illustrations of the birds she is writing about.

The Backyard Bird Chronicles page with illustrations of hummingbirds.

Tan shares the joy of a visit from a Golden-crowned Sparrow and the frustration of birds visiting her neighbors’ feeders and not hers. She tried not to feel rejected when she lured birds with her expensive bird food and they dropped her when she no longer provided it; eventually creating their nests elsewhere.

I’ve always enjoyed watching the birds as they were a common visitor to my backyard growing up. We have feeders in our backyard now and my husband diligently fills them every morning. Even though we live in town, we are on the outskirts and enjoy visits from a redheaded woodpecker, sparrows, goldfinches, juncos, robins, and occasionally an oriole. My mom still gets an array of birds to flock to her backyard and I’m always in awe of the variety of birds when I visit. There is something quite enjoyable about sitting and watching the birds stop by.

The Backyard Bird Chronicles page with illustration of Spotted Towhie

Tan shares the unique behaviors of various birds and other wildlife that frequent her backyard. She notes how they take turns visiting the feeders, watch out for cats or hawks, and shakily take their first steps and flights. She struggles with wanting to interfere with Mother Nature and knowing she shouldn’t. She notes the migration patterns and gets excited when new visitors stop by to take residence, even if just for a short time.

As a backyard bird watcher, something I have noticed that Tan also talks about is their songs and conversations. Using my favorite app, Merlin Bird ID, I learned the sounds of the various birds in my backyard. I may not have been too excited to see a House Sparrow on our feeder, but once I learned their song, it is now one I look forward to hearing. Tan has reminded me to enjoy all the visits to our backyard feeder and maybe one of these days I’ll get a visit from something really special.

Amy Tan is an American writer whose novels include The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Saving Fish From Drowning, and The Valley of Amazement. She is the author of two memoirs, The Opposite of Fate and Where the Past Begins. Her two children’s books are The Chinese Siamese Cat and The Moon Lady. She is also the co-screenwriter of the film adaptation of The Joy Luck, the librettist of the opera The Bonesetter’s Daughter, and the creative consultant to the PBS animated series Sagwa the Chinese Chinese Cat. Tan is an instructor with MasterClass on writing, memory, and imagination. She is featured in the American Masters documentary Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir. She was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters and recently received the National Humanities Medal. She serves on the board of American Bird Conservancy.

Her forthcoming book The Backyard Bird Chronicles began as a journal in 2016, when she turned to nature for calm. She also began taking drawing classes with John Muir Laws (The Laws Guide to Nature Journaling and Drawing, and The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds). During the pandemic shutdown, she drew birds only in her backyard, documenting behaviors she found puzzling. Over time she identified 64 species of birds that have visited her backyard in Marin County. By 2022, she had more than nine journals of sketches and notes, which her editor at Knopf suggested she publish.

To purchase a copy of THE BACKYARD BIRD CHRONICLES, click HERE.

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Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. This review is my honest opinion. If you choose to make a purchase through the above links, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase.

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