Award-winning free-lance science journalist Nicola Jones, most noted for her work on climate change and environmental issues, ventured into the book world with a picture book on the wildlife rehabilitation efforts for one of North America’s most endangered bird species, the Northern Spotted Owl. With a readership primarily of students, Jones—wisely, I believe—refrained from including the controversial efforts to kill Barred Owls in order to save the spotted ones. That issue aside, SAVING THE SPOTTED OWL—ZALEA’S STORY is a detailed nonfiction picture book with a view expands from one specific owl, to Spotted Owls in general, to conservation efforts via breeding centers to save other endangered species. The author is truly committed to this cause, and is donating half of her proceeds to the Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program. 

Zalea’s story began when the three-week-old owlet, not yet able to fly, fell from her tree to the forest floor, about as far as the drop from a 7th-story building. Scientists had been monitoring that tree, and when they found the chick on the ground, they made to decision to rescue. Through the course of the book, the readers are introduced to real owls and the real people working to protect them. One of the final spreads ends with photos of Zalea, grown and with chicks of her own.

Illustration showing Zalea being rescued from the book SAVING THE SPOTTED OWL, by Nicola Jones, illustrated by Alexandra Finkeldey

Sidebars provide additional information to give background to Zalea’s story, and are set aside not with boxes, but by a change in font (from a serif to sans-serif). Those sidebars include specifics about the Northern Spotted Owl, information on endangered species with the IUCN Red-List categories, and details about some of the jobs held by biologists. 

From an art perspective, there’s not much cuter than a baby owl, with all its fluff and roundness and big eyes. Canadian artist Alexandra Finkeldey’s illustrations capture that incredible cuteness, while her intricate work for the sections such as the breeding center, egg development, and life cycle ground the book in its nonfiction reality. Her classroom scene is multicultural and inclusive, and her soft color palette of greens and browns captures the feel of the Pacific northwest. 

Illustration showing students incubating eggs from the book SAVING THE SPOTTED OWL, by Nicola Jones, illustrated by Alexandra Finkeldey

If you think that picture books are just for little kids, think again. Jeopardy star James Holzhauer became a multi-millionaire in part by reading picture books as part of his game strategy. And this is the book to read if you’d like to learn more about Spotted Owls and the people and programs that make up their safety net of protection. And of course, it’s great for kids that love birds (or kids in whom you want to encourage a love of birds!). However, with its dense, rich text, this is not a book for younger kids. Aim this at the 7–13 year-olds in your life. With its inclusion of maps, graphics and life cycles, and details on job specifics, it’s a perfect fit for late elementary through middle school students and classrooms, and for school and public libraries. 

Graphic of the life cycle of the Spotted Owl, from the book SAVING THE SPOTTED OWL, by Nicola Jones, illustrated by Alexandra Finkeldey

Saving the Spotted Owl—Zalea’s Story by Nicola Jones, illustrated by Alexandra Finkeldey

Kids Can Press, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-525-30555-9

$19.99 USA; $21.99 Canada

32 pages, Grade level 3-7, Lexile 1010 (5th-8th grades)

Written by Susan Wroble
Susan Wroble has always paid attention to the birds around her, perhaps in part because Burd is her middle name! She is always happiest when outside gardening and listening to birdsong. Coming from a family with a strong commitment to service, Susan started volunteering after college with two years in the Peace Corps in the Independent State of Western Samoa, where she taught high school math and science. Currently, she volunteers as leader of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Society for Children’s Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and at the Colorado Children’s Hospital. She also leads a long-term Denver-area support group for parents of Twice-Exceptional Children. Susan’s degrees are in electrical engineering and foreign affairs, but her great love is children’s books. She writes nonfiction, and tends to focus on stories that share a message of hope in this era of climate change. She has written four children’s books for the school library market. Her book DAWN CHORUS: PROTECTING BIRDSONG AROUND THE WORLD is scheduled for publication with Holiday House in 2026.