Groundwood Books

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk

Written by Jan Thornhill

For kids 9 - 12 years old | Published October 01, 2016 | ISBN 9781554988655
JUVENILE NONFICTION / Animals / Birds

Cover of The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk

Regular price $18.95 CAD

44 pages | 11 in × 8.5 in
Print Format

Also Available as an Ebook

About this book

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk

Jan Thornhill

For hundreds of thousands of years Great Auks thrived in the icy seas of the North Atlantic, bobbing on the waves, diving for fish and struggling up onto rocky shores to mate and hatch their fluffy chicks. But by 1844, not a single one of these magnificent birds was alive.

In this stunningly illustrated non-fiction picture book, award-winning author and illustrator Jan Thornhill tells the tragic story of these birds that “weighed as much as a sack of potatoes and stood as tall as a preteen’s waist.” Their demise came about in part because of their anatomy. They could swim swiftly underwater, but their small wings meant they couldn’t fly and their feet were so far back on their bodies, they couldn’t walk very well. Still the birds managed to escape their predators much of the time … until humans became seafarers.

Great Auks were pursued first by Vikings, then by Inuit, Beothuk and finally European hunters. Their numbers rapidly dwindled. They became collectors’ items — their skins were stuffed for museums, to be displayed along with their beautiful eggs. (There are some amazing stories about these stuffed auks — one was stolen from a German museum during WWII by Russian soldiers; another was flown to Iceland and given a red-carpet welcome at the airport.)

Although undeniably tragic, the final demise of the Great Auk led to the birth of the conservation movement. Laws were eventually passed to prevent the killing of birds during the nesting season, and similar laws were later extended to other wildlife species.

About the Author

Jan Thornhill

Jan Thornhill is an author and illustrator who brings her fascination with the natural world to her books for children. They include The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk (Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Award finalist); I Found a Dead Bird (National Parenting Publications Gold Award, Norma Fleck Award, Children’s Literature Roundtables of Canada Information Book Award); The Wildlife 123 (UNICEF-Ezra Jack Keats International Award, Governor General’s Award finalist) and The Wildlife ABC (Governor General’s Award finalist). Jan has also won the Vicky Metcalf Award. She spends her spare time in the woods obsessively collecting and cataloging wild mushrooms and slime molds. She lives near Havelock, Ontario.

Awards and Praise
  • Winner Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Books of the Year, 2017
  • Commended Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction, 2017
  • Commended White Ravens List, 2017
  • Commended ALA Notable Children's Books, 2017
  • Commended Booklist Top 10 Science & Health Books for Youth, 2016
  • Winner TD Canadian Children's Literature Award, 2017
  • Commended Booklist Editors' Choice, 2017
  • Commended SLJ's Best of 2016, 2016
  • Long-listed Green Earth Book Award, 2017
  • Short-listed Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award, 2016
The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk