John Audubon: Young Naturalist

John Audubon: Young Naturalist

by Miriam E. Mason, Cathy Morrison

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As an adult, John Audubon was the best known wildlife artist of the 19th century, and his book, Birds of America, is the standard against which all subsequent bird art has been measured. In this story about the artist's childhood in the West Indies and France, John's love of drawing sends him into the fields and woods near his country house in pursuit of

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As an adult, John Audubon was the best known wildlife artist of the 19th century, and his book, Birds of America, is the standard against which all subsequent bird art has been measured. In this story about the artist's childhood in the West Indies and France, John's love of drawing sends him into the fields and woods near his country house in pursuit of winged models. Games and adventures also beckon: John confronts a ghost in the old water mill tower, presents his friend Cecile with a surprise birthday gift (that goes horribly wrong!), and sails off to seek his fortune in America. Special features include a summary of John's adult accomplishments, fun facts detailing little-known information about him, and a time line of his life.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Joella Peterson
This "new edition" from the "Young Patriots" series was first published in 1962 as John Audubon: Boy Naturalist. This fictionalized account of the early life of John Audubon has an abundance of black-and-white illustrations scattered throughout. The story reads as a simple chapter book with the historical characters as the focus of the story. While the text provides the reader with a good story, there are no references or source notes to allow the reader to recognize the fact from the fiction. One cannot tell what part of the story is based on historical fact and what is the author's imagination. The story concludes just before John Audubon becomes famous. As a result, there is a small list of "what happened next." A minute "fun facts," a basic timeline, and a small glossary are provided, although they will only be used as a starting point for those who are interested.

Product Details

Patria Press, Inc
Publication date:
Young Patriots Series, #12
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.30(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

John Audubon

Young Naturalist

By Miriam E. Mason, Harold Underdown, Cathy Morrison

Patria Press, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Estate of Miriam E. Mason
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-882859-89-4


The Captain Arrives

Long ago, a little boy opened his brown eyes sleepily and gave a wide yawn as he stretched himself awake.

"Something is different about this morning," the young boy said to himself. He wondered what it was.

Jean was in bed in his own room, the same room in which he had gone to sleep and wakened each evening and each morning for as long as he could remember.

He could see the same mosquito-netting curtains hung about his bed like a veil to keep out the hordes of hungry insects which were always there, ready and waiting to take a bite of nice, tender boy.

The green shutters were closed, as always, to keep out the blazing sunlight of the West Indian island where young Jean lived. A few beams of the bright sunlight managed to creep between the shutters and make slender white lines on the floor.

Some little sugar birds which had come in through the kitchen door were hopping about the furniture and hunting insects on the floor.

"There is nothing different about you," said the little boy to the sugar birds. They were tame animals which came into the house every day and went quietly about picking up crumbs and bugs and flies.

Outside the house, the trogons and the gorgeously colored chatterers were quarreling in the mango trees, making more noise than usual.

When the boy listened with his sharp ears, he could hear the voices of the laborers down in the cane fields. They were singing in deep, slow, musical tones.

"It is the same song that they always sing," said young Jean. He yawned again and slipped out of bed, looking carefully before he set his slim bare feet down on the floor. In this hot country, a huge tarantula, or poison spider, might come in for a visit. Or a long snake might choose to take a nap in the cool shade of a bedroom.

Jean ran to the window and threw open the green shutter. White sunlight flooded the room with a blast of oven-like heat. Far beyond the mango trees was the sea, so brilliantly blue that it hurt his eyes to look at it. The green cane waved gently in the steep fields which rose from the sea. While he looked, Jean could see what looked like a tiny dark cloud moving above the shoreline, high in the sky.

"The swallows are leaving!" he cried.

Now, suddenly, he knew what had made this morning different. He hadn't heard the morning songs of the blue-gray birds which spent several months of the year in Haiti. Usually, they had wakened him every morning with a shrill, sweet chorus outside his window.

He leaned out still farther, almost falling from the window, in order to watch the dark cloud as it moved swiftly away.

"Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye!" he called, waving his hand. A strange feeling of loneliness came over him, for he loved the swallows.

"Someday I would like to follow the swallows and see where they go," he thought.

Captain Audubon, his father, had told him that the birds went north, many of them to a place called North America.

"When I grow up, I am going to follow those birds to North America!" he said to the birds in the mango trees.

The trogons laughed and laughed, and the chatterers scolded in their harsh voices.

"Silly, silly, silly!" they seemed to say.

Just then Celestine came rushing into the room. "It is time you were up, you sleepyhead!" she called.

She was a tall enslaved woman who took care of the little boy and his sister. Jean's mother had died when he was too young to remember her very well. Since then, Jean's father had put Celestine in charge of the children.

Jean looked surprised. Usually Celestine let him sleep in the mornings.

"Why are you in such a hurry?" asked Jean. He picked up his ruffled shirt from the floor, shaking it well to get rid of any spiders that might be hiding in it.

His old nurse took the shirt from his hand. "Not that one!" Celestine then went to the chest in the corner and got out another shirt. It was a very fancy one, made of finest linen with many little tucks and ruffles.

"But that is my very best shirt!" said Jean, opening his hazel-brown eyes in wide amazement. "Why do you want...."

"The best is none too good for you to wear when the Captain is coming," the old woman interrupted.

The boy's eyes sparkled. He clasped his hands, hardly able to believe this wonderful news. "The Captain — Captain Audubon — my captain?" he cried.

Celestine led him to the window and pointed to the sea. "Look closely," she said.

Yes, there was a ship, resting gracefully like a beautiful white-winged bird on the bright blue water of the sea.

"It is Captain Audubon's ship," whispered Jean happily. Old Celestine nodded her white-turbaned head.

"He came in last night," she said. "His ship arrived late. He came up from the shore and would have wakened you and your sister, but I would not let him." She fastened his shirt. "Hurry now." she said. "We must make you presentable."

In the kitchen his little sister was sitting in her cradle. Her face was very clean, and she had on a brightly colored silk dress trimmed with golden buttons and lots of silver lace.

Jean did not complain when Celestine rubbed his face until it ached. The Captain, his captain, was home from sea!

More than anybody in the world little Jean loved and admired big Jean, the Captain. He thought him the grandest person on earth.

"Ow!" he cried, as old Celestine's comb scraped through his long, light brown curls, yanking out tangles.

The sound of a carriage outside made him forget his pain. The Captain was here!

Captain Audubon came into the kitchen, and Jean jerked away from Celestine and flew into the big man's outstretched arms.

"You are here, Father! You are honestly here at last! I thought you would never come!" he cried eagerly.

Captain Audubon hugged his son. Then he picked up little Rose and tossed her into the air. He caught her as she came down laughing and screaming with delight.

"Have you really missed me?" the Captain asked, turning back to Jean.

The boy nodded his bright head. "It seems like years — hundreds of them, even thousands!" he answered.

Captain Audubon was of medium height with a friendly face and sharp eyes. Sometimes when he wanted to look dignified, he put on a uniform with many brass buttons and wore a white wig on his head. Today, however, he merely wore the uniform and left his grayish-brown hair uncovered.

He sat down at the table, and old Celestine brought some breakfast — a platter of chicken and some bread and fruit.

"That will do, Celestine," said the Captain. "You had better go. You have many things to do, and I can look after the children."

Celestine went off, her head bobbing angrily. She was muttering to herself.

"She is very angry this morning," said young Jean, biting into a banana. "I slept too long. The swallows did not awaken me, because they left early."

Captain Audubon waited a minute before he spoke. "No, she is angry because, ,,," He did not seem to know what to say, and young Jean looked puzzled.

Suddenly the Captain laid down the chicken leg that he had been eating. "Listen, my boy!" he said. "I am taking you away with me — you and your little sister. We are going across the ocean in a ship!"

"In a ship? Across the ocean? As far as — as far as the swallows go?" Jean asked.

The Captain nodded his head. "We are going to France. I have a new mother for you. She is a kind woman, and she is eager to welcome her two little stepchildren!"

"A new mother," whispered Jean. "A French mother! That will be nice." Then his voice grew more eager and his hazel eyes shone. "Shall we see the swallows again?"

Captain Audubon laughed. "I think you are more interested in birds than in a new mother," he said teasingly.

He was pleased, though. He had taught young Jean the names of many birds, and he had told him about the long journeys which the northern birds make to hot countries before the weather grows cold.

"France is a long way off," he said kindly, "but you will find many of your old bird friends there to welcome you. I am sure you will see the swallows, the firebirds, the kingfishers, and the catbirds." (Figure 1.1)

Jean felt happy. He had learned to know these northern birds by sight and song. He had looked forward to their coming in the winter, and he had been sorry when they left the "big heat" of Haiti every year for their cooler northern homes.

"Will there be other birds, too, Father?" he asked eagerly, forgetting to eat his breakfast. "Will there be birds I've never seen — maybe French birds?"

"Oh, dozens of them," laughed the Captain. "You will see the green sandpipers wading in the marsh. You will see jackdaws and crows and owls. You will see the cuckoo, too lazy to build her own nest."

Jean sprang to his feet. He was excited by the thought of all these strange new birds.

"How soon can we start?" he cried. "Can we start right now?"

He was not afraid of the long journey which lay before him, nor of the strange people in that far-off land of France. He was on tiptoe with eagerness to get started on this first flight.


A New Mother

At times, Jean felt that he had been sailing forever on this great, green tossing ocean. Far behind him, and almost forgotten now, was his old home on the steep mountain island of Haiti.

This was in the year 1789, and swift steamships had not yet been built. Ocean travel still was long and slow.

Every day the little boy asked, "Will we see France today, Father?"

"Not yet, my boy," Captain Audubon would answer kindly.

Often he took young Jean walking with him along the deck of the ship. Hand in hand, father and son walked back and forth, around and around the spotless deck. Jean held his head high and tried not to fall when the ship rolled on the rough waves.

While they walked, the Captain told young Jean exciting true stories about his own life. Captain Audubon had had many adventures. And there were twenty-one children in his family.

Jean liked to hear his father tell this. "Say it again! Twenty-one children!" He held up the fingers on his slim little hands. "That is two times as many fingers as I have."

"Two times and one over," the Captain said. He was always careful that Jean should count correctly. A boy who cannot count can never become a captain, he told him, because captains have to work many long, hard problems.

"There were twenty-one children in my family," the Captain said again. "When I was twelve, I went to sea as a cabin boy."

No matter how often the Captain and Jean went walking, nor how long they walked, the stories never ran out. The Captain had been in wars, he had been captured and put in a prison, he had even fought with pirates.

"And you always got away!" said young Jean proudly. "I am glad. It would be dreadful to be shut up where you could not get away!"

One day when Jean looked out over the deep green water, he saw a strange bird. At first he thought he must be dreaming, for what would a bird be doing, far out in the ocean?

"Look!" he whispered to Captain Audubon. When the Captain followed the little boy's finger, his face grew serious.

"That is a stormy petrel," he said. "It loves what men fear — an ocean storm." The petrel was a dark, silent bird a little larger than a parrot. It had strange, three-toed feet, and it seemed to be walking on the water.

"What a sad bird," said young Jean.

"Wait until a storm comes up," his father answered. "When the clouds are darkest and the wind highest, and when the ship is tossing about on the waves, then the petrel dances on the water, laughs, and has a good time."

A few days after this a storm did come up. The masts of the ship shook in the wind. The cables and chains cracked and groaned. The storm was so fierce that little Rose cried. Even the sailors were frightened.

Jean was not frightened. "Let me go with you, Father," he begged. "I am not afraid to be on deck in the storm. I want to see the petrel dancing and laughing on the waves!"

At last the Captain carried the little boy in his arms up to the dark, wave-swept deck. Jean looked out at the foaming waves. Yes, there it was. The stormy petrel was riding the wild waves, and it seemed to be laughing. (Figure 2.1)

"You are not afraid of the storm, and I am not afraid of the storm," thought Jean. "I am a stormy petrel, too."

Jean saw several birds on his long ocean voyage. He saw the greedy white pelican which eats as much as six men. He saw the black cormorant, with its stiff, fan-shaped tail.

When at last the merchant ship approached the shore of France, Jean saw a great loon, green-black in the sunlight, spread its wide wings and dive for a fish.

He was so thrilled that he did not even hear the joyous cries of the sailors, "Land ho!"

"See, Father, he got the fish! He got it!"

"Indeed he did. He seldom fails," replied the Captain gently. Then he lifted the boy high in his arms.

"See, boy! There ahead of us is France. We are nearly home!"

Jean strained his eyes to the dark line of land which lay ahead. He looked back over the endless miles of green ocean water. He wondered if the little swallows had crossed these wide waters safely and were waiting to greet him in his new home.


"So many houses!" gasped Jean, looking about him with wonder.

At last the little group of travelers had come to the town toward which they had been journeying for so long. This was the city of Nantes, in France, on the Loire River. It was one of the oldest and richest towns in France with many narrow, winding streets, tall houses crowding close to one another, and the cathedral tower rising high above the rooftops.

Captain Audubon came down the gangplank of the ship with young Jean holding tightly to his hand, and Celestine carrying Rose.

Jean had forgotten all about the weariness of his long journey. He was aglow with excitement over this strange new town.

The Audubons and Celestine climbed into a carriage, the coachman closed the doors, and the carriage rumbled down the streets over the round cobblestones.

"There is the river Loire," pointed the Captain as they rattled along. Jean looked at the river. "And there is the great cathedral," his father continued.

"Look, Father, look!" whispered Jean excitedly. "Stop the carriage, please!"

"I never knew you to be so interested in cathedrals," said the Captain, in a pleased voice.

But Jean was pointing down to the river. There among the wiry grasses stood a strange, long-legged bird.

"That bird, Father! See how it stands on one foot there among the grasses. Please let me out. Let me go down and look at the bird!"

Captain Audubon was a little irritated. "No need to be in such a frenzy, my boy!" he said. "That is only a sandpiper. The Loire is thick with them. They will wait."

On and on through the winding, narrow street rumbled the Audubons' carriage. At last it came to a stop before a tall, dignified house in the very heart of Nantes.

"What a high house," said Jean, bending his head back to look up to the steep roof of the French house. In Haiti all the houses had very low roofs.

He looked about him with interest as they went up the steps and into the house. In Haiti there were grass mattings on the floor and shutters to keep out the blazing white sunlight. Here the carpet was quite soft with beautifully colored flowers woven in it.

Soon a smiling lady came into the room. Her silk dress made a whispering sound when she walked, and there was a sweet smell about her, like flowers.

"This is your new mother, children," said the Captain, and the lady smiled again. Jean knew he would love her.

"What a handsome boy he is," she cried, "and what a beautiful little girl!" She hugged Jean and whispered into his ear, "Do you like candy?"

When he nodded his head she said, "We will get a new suit for you. There will be big pockets in it. There will be plenty of room in the pockets for coins and candy!"

"Will you let me go down to the river and catch one of those birds? Will you let me have it for my own?" He told her about the bird which stood on one leg.

"Certainly!" laughed his new mother. "How bright he is," she said to Captain Audubon. "Not many boys his age would be interested in the sandpipers."

Then she added, "I have a bird, too. Come, I will show you!"

She led him to the dining room. Out there a green parrot was sitting in a big cage. A monkey was playing on top of a cupboard.

"The parrot's name is Migonne," said his new mother. "The monkey is Giorgio. They can be your pets, if you like."

"I am glad we came here," said Jean happily.

He had a parrot to remind him of his old home back in Haiti. He had a monkey to play with. He had a kind new maman to love him.


Excerpted from John Audubon by Miriam E. Mason, Harold Underdown, Cathy Morrison. Copyright © 2006 Estate of Miriam E. Mason. Excerpted by permission of Patria Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Miriam E. Mason was a teacher and editor who wrote more than 50 books for young readers and served as a consultant for textbooks for elementary school students. She was an Indiana Author of the Year. Cathy Morrison is the illustrator of Ignacio's Chair and the Young Patriots series. She is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and She lives in Denver, Colorado.

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