189 Canaries by Dieter Boge. Illustrated by Elsa Klever

“This is the story of a long journey, but I’ll keep it as short as I can, because it has such a lovely ending.” So begins author Dieter Boge’s fascinating, fictional story of a bright yellow canary from the Harz Mountains in Germany who is transported by various means to New York Harbor. From there, the sweetly singing bird is taken to a pet store, purchased by the parents of a young girl, and brought to a new home. 

Based on historical facts, this informative, magnificently illustrated children’s picture book relates the role canaries played in the lives of miners in the Harz Mountains, warning of the danger of depleted oxygen in underground tunnels when the birds stopped singing. In the homes of miners and carpenters, the canaries’ singing enlivened the atmosphere as the birds performed deep “rolling” sequences of notes with their beaks closed, making them famous worldwide as the “Harz Roller” canaries. Many families bred canaries to make extra income. The birds were transported in tiny stacked cages, 189 in total, perched on a rack covered in a cloth and carried on the back of a bird dealer over the mountains, often taking a few weeks. Then, taken by train and finally an ocean liner, the birds arrived at their new home. Author notes add many fascinating details. For example, “In the year 1882 alone, 120,000 canaries were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to New York in this way.”  

Children who are bird lovers will find 189 Canaries a book to be enjoyed again and again. 

(Eerdmans Books for Young Readers)

About the Author

Sonya VanderVeen Feddema is a freelance writer and a member of Covenant CRC in St. Catharines, Ontario.