Arts and Entertainment

Whidbey birders, authors connect children with nature in new book

Joy and Craig Johnson have spent countless hours bird-watching from their deck in Freeland. In their new book, “Harry the Woodpecker’s Search for a Home,” the couple focuses on the life of a woodpecker.  - Celeste Erickson / The Record
Joy and Craig Johnson have spent countless hours bird-watching from their deck in Freeland. In their new book, “Harry the Woodpecker’s Search for a Home,” the couple focuses on the life of a woodpecker.
— image credit: Celeste Erickson / The Record

Freeland residents Joy and Craig Johnson have pecked out a new book for up and coming birders.

“Harry the Woodpecker’s Search for a Home” was released Dec. 5 and has been making its rounds at Whidbey bookstores ever since.

It’s being sold for $9.95 at Moonraker Books, Linds, Wild Birds Unlimited, Lavender Wind Farm, South Whidbey Commons, Sound Business Systems and Greenbank Cheese & Specialties.

The book has been a long time coming for the Johnsons, who are primarily known for their work illustrating, photographing, writing and making videos about birds in the Pacific Northwest. This is the fourth book they’ve published together.

The couple started working on the book around the time when their first children’s book, “The Amazing Hummingbird Story of Red Rufous,” went to press in 2009. Copies are difficult to come by today as the issue run is nearly sold out.

Both Joy and Craig were inspired by the woodpeckers that visit their Freeland residence. The book ties in several themes important to the Johnsons such as valuing nature, preserving habitats for birds and getting outside.

Together they are a team, with Joy writing and Craig working on the watercolor illustrations. He is also an accomplished photographer, whose work appears regularly in The Record.

Their guidebooks of northwest birds, “Our Pacific Northwest Birds & Habitat,” has gained popularity and they hope to instill some of the same ideas of birding with their children’s books.

The 28-page paperback follows Harry, a woodpecker, and his mate as they explore the challenges of finding a home and chisel their way into trees to raise their young.

For Craig, it was important to document real-life encounters in the story. The woodpeckers run into humans building a house, and other woodpeckers that have already built their homes. 

It’s the type of interactions they saw in the countless hours spent outside watching real woodpeckers on their deck.

“The story is true to life, what Harry the woodpecker goes through,” Craig said.

In writing the book, Joy said she likes to include information all readers will learn from, for both the children and the adults reading the books.

“We wanted to make it as accurate as possible,” she said. “Fun and engaging for readers and kids.”

In the story, Craig said he wanted to connect the message with what people can do in their own lives to help birds. When the woodpeckers run into humans, it’s a message that humans can make changes to incorporate a bird habitat into their own home.

People can have a groomed front yard and a native backyard for birds to live in, he said.

“Have an area that’s groomed and an area that’s nature,” Craig said. “You’ll find yourself looking in the backyard and become a magnet to it.”

For Joy, the book is important to build the next generation of birders. She wants to see grandparents share these stories with their grandchildren.

“We definitely want that connection,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”

It’s important to connect kids to the outdoors, Joy said. It’s a critical time in society with children becoming further and further removed from it. For them, birds are tangible to what’s outside and from that interest, children learn that it’s all interconnected — birds eat the bugs, bugs eat the dirt, she said.

“We’re meant to connect to nature,” she said. “If we start kids early, it will continue throughout their lives.”

Learning about birds enriches their experience of being outside if they know what birds they’re looking at, Craig said.

“Take a moment in nature and just be,” he said. “I’m blown away by the stuff I see.”


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