If you’re having a bad day, it might lift your spirits to think,” At least I’m not an emu.” These strange-looking creatures are flightless birds that reside in Australia. A bird that can’t fly?—seems paradoxical. According to some, after the extinction of the dinosaurs some birds fattened up (since there were fewer predators) and became flightless [Science Daily, Australia National University, 2010].
Every time I see an emu (which most recently was at Bates Nut Farm], I linger. I stare at their useless wings, their long legs, their round shocked-looking eyes and can’t help but determine they’re ugly. But interesting.
They are bafflingly unintelligent. Louis Lefebvre, a biology professor at McGill University, claims emus are among the dumbest birds. Kaye Primmer, a former emu breeder said that if an emu attacks, just hold up a stick. “Then they think you’re bigger than them and they back off” [from “It’s no Flight of Fancy Emus are Bird Brains” by Sydney Morning Herald 2005].
Given all these eccentricities—their strange appearance, useless wings and unintelligence—wasn’t Sheena Knowles brilliant to write a children’s book about them?
Edward the Emu is discontent with himself. He claims being an emu is “a bore.” Just look at an emu, standing under the hot sun on two stick-like legs, staring at you quizzically and their very existence seems tireless. So Edward sets out to become another animal. Something fascinating, enviable and with some trait that inspired the creation of X-Men.
As he darts from being one animal to another, there is always a zoo visitor that thinks something else is better. While Edward is a seal, a lion is better. While he’s a lion, a snake is better. Exhausted, Edward finally hears a zoo visitor exclaim how interesting emus are. Wait, what? Someone wants to see an emu? That’s me, he realizes.
He rushes back to his enclosure only to find he’s been replaced by Edwina the Emu, which sets the stage for a humorous love story that unfolds in another one of Sheena Knowles books, Edwina the Emu.
Sheena Knowles writes in verse. Her rhymes are predictable and create a sing-song like quality to Edward the Emu. Rhyming books help develop phonemic awareness in neurotypical children, but not in Dyslexic readers. Many children benefit from hearing rhyming books, because rhyming books teach the concept that if we change the last sound in a word, the entire meaning of the word changes—a groundbreaking concept, and if you don’t believe this is groundbreaking for young readers, check out What is Phonemic Awareness?
Sheena Knowles also uses uncommon words, yet her books are easy for young readers to understand. Read Edward the Emu aloud to your student and have fun trying to guess what animal Edward will try to become next.
Edward the Emu provides a good opportunity to talk to children about self-acceptance. Edward is not fierce like a lion. He’s not playful like a seal. But he is strange like an emu. Someone is bound to love those emu quirks. When a visitor is looking for an emu, Edward finally learns to embrace himself and his self-acceptance leads to the fun journey outlined in Edwina the Emu.
The pictures look realistic. They portray the awkwardness of the emu form. Edward looks expressionless, perturbed and shocked all at the same time. His body is gangly and too long to fit in the horizontal format of a book.
ABOUT SHEENA KNOWLES
Sheena Knowles is the author of Edward the Emu and the equally popular Edwina the Emu.