Author Amy Timberlake Talks About Imagining Passenger Pigeons

Amy Timberlakes latest historical novel, One Came Home, is set against the backdrop of the largest passenger pigeon nesting recorded in the U.S. It happened in Wisconsin in 1871, and here Timberlake recreates the experience of imagining a nesting as large as the one way back then. If you’d like to learn more about One Came Home and enter to win a copy of the book, read the review and comment here.

How to Imagine Passenger Pigeons EXACTLY like the author of One Came Home.

Close your eyes. Tell yourself to imagine lots and lots and lots of birds. The most birds you ever saw—what was it? Immediately think of a flock of Canada Geese that you saw at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Remember how there were so many birds that The Garden hired guys with dogs to scare the geese because the geese left droppings on every, single walkway. Recall the exact feeling of slipping on goose poo. Think, Worse than ice.

Meditate for a moment on goose poo. Perceive that it comes in a truly interesting set of colors—a spattering of green, black and white. Open your eyes. Think excitedly, Like The Fighting Irish! Then frown. Ask yourself: Are The Fighting Irish colors green and white? Know you need to double-check this fact, but find you have no interest in doing so, despite the fact that going online to “check facts” is a siren call—irresistible, alluring—especially during Writing Time. Scan your soul for a mite of interest in football and find none. Note this for later, future essays, which will almost certainly never be written. In your word-processing program type: “goose poo in Fighting Irish green and white.” Think you’re clever.

Abruptly know that you’re a complete eejit. Look around, quickly. Really wonder if anyone saw you thinking what you thought. Grasp that: a) you work alone; b) no one can see you thinking; and c) there’s nothing even remotely alive in this room except yourself. Wonder briefly about the alive-ness of the raisins you’ve been eating. Apprehend that they’re dead—but edible. Eating dead, edible things is distressing somehow. Remind yourself that it is biology, part of The Lion King’s ‘Circle of Life.’ Hear the lyrics in your head: Ingonyama nengw’ enamabaal! Ingonyama nengw’ enamabaal! Ingonyama nengw’ enamabaal!

 Stop! Gasp your disgust. Strictly tell yourself to get on topic—please. Make yourself say the words out loud: “Passenger Pigeons are birds, birds, birds—lots of birds.” Say it again—this time with your eyes closed. Decide to bake muffins.

Amy Timberlake photo

Amy Timberlake photo taken by M J Alexander

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Amy Timberlake’s latest novel is a western for middle grade readers titled One Came Home (subtitled “A sister lost. A body found. The truth buried.”) It’s set during the last great passenger pigeon nesting in 1871, and is the story of thirteen-year old Georgie Burkhardt, who leaves everyone she knows in order to find the sister she’s lost. She grew up in Hudson, Wisconsin. She has an M.A. in English/Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she’s also taught writing. She’s worked as a book reviewer, a book event coordinator, and as a children’s bookseller. Her previous books include That Girl Lucy Moon and The Dirty Cowboy. The Dirty Cowboy was illustrated by Adam Rex and won SCBWI’s Golden Kite Award. That Girl Lucy Moon was chosen as a Book Sense Pick, a NYPL’s “100 Titles for Reading and Sharing,” a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of 2007, an Amelia Bloomer Book, and the winner of the Friends of American Writers Literary Award. Amy Timberlake lives with her husband in Chicago. Learn more about her life and work at her website:

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