Spit & Sticks: <br><font size=2>A Chimney Full of Swifts</font>

Spit & Sticks:
A Chimney Full of Swifts

  • 1695

By: Marilyn Grohoske Evans / Illustrated by: Nicole Gsell

A human family awaits the birth of a new baby as their bird friends nest above.

A chimney swift glides onto a family’s farm in Texas, thousands of miles from its other home in South America. The stub-tailed bird is in search of the chimney it once called home.

Another swift soon joins. They toil in their temporary chimney home, using twigs from nearby trees and their sticky spit as an adhesive to build a nest that will soon welcome their pure-white oval eggs. At the same time in the house below, a mother, father, and young daughter prepare for the arrival of a new baby.

Informative text tells the story of the diligent swifts alongside wordless illustrations of the family on the farm. This parallel story of two very different, but both growing, families follows the changes in each as summer gives way to fall and the humans wave good-bye to the departing swifts—until next year.

Nicole Gsell’s watercolor illustrations capture the harmonious interaction of humans and nature. Additional information on chimney swifts is included as backmatter. Nature enthusiasts and bird lovers will delight in learning about the life cycle of chimney swifts and their annual migration.

Look Inside the Book:

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Marilyn Grohoske Evans, author

Marilyn Grohoske Evans first saw chimney swifts chitter and zip in and out of grain elevators in Texas. She was fascinated, and Spit & Sticks was born. Marilyn has a journalism and public relations background, and she has published educational books for children and for school literacy programs. She is active in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and spends time in her garden with the butterflies and flowers she loves.

Read more about Marilyn.

Nicole Gsell, illustrator

Nicole Gsell graduated from Rhode Island School of Design and has a master's in art education at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Originally from Long Island, New York, Nicole moved to Boston to pursue a career in publishing. She also illustrated two independently published books, We are Twins! The Story of Sam and Ben and The Tremendous Pagoda Tree.

Read more about Nicole.

Awards & Honors:

  • CCBC Choices

Editorial Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews

While a pair of swifts raises a family in their chimney, a Texas family grows as well.

The straightforward text in Evans' first picture book follows a family of swifts from the pair's return to the chimney of the farmhouse where they were born through nest-building, egg-laying and hatching, and feeding their chicks, who eventually fledge, fly, and feed themselves. In fall, the birds take off, joining a swarm of swifts heading for their winter home in the Southern Hemisphere. This simple narrative focuses exclusively on the birds, but it is mirrored by the activities of the mixed-race farming family shown in artfully primitive watercolor illustrations (with collage elements). One page shows the birds building their nest inside the chimney; opposite, the human father and daughter construct a crib while the visibly pregnant mother knits. While the birds "snuggle close" on the eggs, the human father reads to his daughter on his lap. A striking double-page spread shows the chicks emerging from their eggs. On the next pages, "It's a Boy" balloons fly from the farmhouse mailbox. Throughout the summer the baby grows ever more capable, just as the chicks do. An endnote includes further information about swifts and suggestions for readers to learn more and help preserve these interesting birds.

A clever connection to the natural world for young readers and listeners.

Publishers Weekly

A biracial family of three prepares to welcome a new baby boy while swifts nesting in the chimney of their quaint Texas country home raise their own fledglings. In calming prose, debut author Evans keeps the narrative focus on the birds ("Chittering, the fledglings jubilantly feast and frolic, consuming tons of insects"), letting the human family's story play out silently in Gsell's soft, loose watercolors, which include digitally collaged elements. Together, Evans and Gsell convey the quiet intersection of human an animal life, while an endnote offers more detailed information about the migration of chimney swifts.


One spring in Texas, a chimney swift flies back from South America to the farmhouse where it was born. In the chimney, the swift and its mate build a nest, and the female lays three white eggs. Three weeks later, they hatch. Eating all the insects their parents can bring them, the young birds grow up quickly, and soon they are trying their wings and flying about the farm with their family. In early winter, the swifts join a flock flying southward. The text is simple and informative, but it tells only part of the story in this appealing offering. Created with broad brushstrokes of watercolor and including digital elements, the vivid illustrations also show people on the farm: a father, mother, little girl, and (around the time the swifts’ eggs hatch) new baby brother. There’s little direct interplay between the human and avian families, which is realistic. But those scenes, such as the father and daughter waving at the fledgling birds, become a rewarding part of the visual narrative. An engaging, informational picture book.


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ISBN: 978-1-58089-588-0

ISBN: 978-1-60734-770-5 EPUB
ISBN: 978-1-60734-769-9 PDF
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Ages: 3-7
Page count: 32

Correlated to Common Core State Standards:
English Language Arts-Literacy. Reading Informational. Kindergarten. Standards 1-10
English Language Arts-Literacy. Reading Informational. Grade 1. Standards 1-4, 6, 7, 8, 10

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Birds: Nature's Magnificent Flying Machines
The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: A Birder's Journal