June 2021

Mysterious bird is subject of Leeds' first children's book

A nocturnal bird with a supernatural reputation is the subject of the first children’s book to be published by the University. And we have five copies to give away.

A nocturnal creature with a supernatural reputation is the inspiration for the first children’s book to be published by the University.

The Mysterious Bird in the Moonlight tells the story of the nightjar, whose soundless flight, large eyes and wide bill have for centuries been the subject of folklore.

It has been created by award-winning children’s author and illustrator Steve Smallman as part of Land Lines, a three-year study of British nature writing from the late 18th century to the present day.

The project is led by Professor Graham Huggan of the School of English who explains: “Many creatures remain mysterious to us, either because they’re so small or because they only come out when most of us are asleep. The nocturnal nightjar is one such creature, and this beautifully written and illustrated book will delight both children and their parents, inspiring them to uncover the multiple mysteries of the natural world.”

Inactive by day, and well camouflaged by its mottled plumage, the nightjar visits UK habitats for only a few weeks in summer before moving to warmer climes. Superstition branded the bird a harbinger of death and disease; for centuries it was known as the goatsucker after the strange belief it stole milk from nanny goats, causing it to turn sour. In recent years, numbers have fallen significantly due to loss of habitats, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has granted the bird conservation status.

“This beautifully written and illustrated book is sure to delight both children and their parents.”

Professor Graham Huggan, School of English

East Yorkshire's Humberhead Peatland is one area where a breeding population thrives – and the book has enthralled children at nearby Hatfield Woodhouse Primary School. Principal Helen Acton says: “Our older children enjoyed the vocabulary and stunning artwork, while our little ones fell in love with the characters. We will use the book as a starting point for teaching life-cycles and natural habitats – but we love that its ultimate message is one of friendship.”

The Mysterious Bird in the Moonlight is available to buy online and in bookshops – and we have five copies to give away. To enter, answer the simple questions below.