Research and collaboration inspires a breakthrough book for children

The University of Leeds has published its first children's book as part of a study of modern British nature writing.

The Mysterious Bird in the Moonlight tells the story of the nightjar, a bird whose soundless flight, large eyes and wide bill have given rise to folklore myths for centuries.

Inactive by day, and well camouflaged by its mottled plumage, the nightjar visits UK habitats for only a few weeks in summer before moving on to warmer climates.

Now, the secret story of this scarcely-seen nocturnal bird has been retold in the University’s first book for children, inspired by collaborative work and research.

A delightful account of one of our mysterious birds - the nightjar - complete with beautiful illustrations, which will allow children to better understand the mysteries of the night.

Stephen Moss, Naturalist and Author

Nightjar nights

Throughout the Summer of 2020, the nightjar was the focus of a unique showcase held by the Land Lines research project – Nightjar Nights.

Nightjar Nights formed part of a wider creative programme by the Land Lines research team, called Nature Revealed: Tracks, Traces and Trails.

The project used artistic interventions in nature reserves to explore environmental themes of climate, migration, nocturnal and subterranean life – working with children and older adult participant groups whilst commissioning new writing and artworks. 

A vivid account of a natural mystery

The Mysterious Bird in the Moonlight has been created by award-winning children’s author and illustrator Steve Smallman, who has written more than 50 children’s books including Poo in the Zoo, Dragon Stew and Hippobottymus.

Principal investigator Professor Graham Huggan, from the School of English, said:

“Many of nature’s creatures remain mysterious to us, either because they are so small that they are invisible to us, or because they come out at night when most of us are fast asleep.”

This beautifully written and illustrated book on one such creature, the nocturnal nightjar, is sure to delight both children and their parents, inspiring them to uncover the multiple mysteries of the natural world.

The Mysterious Bird in the Moonlight will be available as the nightjars return to the UK from Africa for the breeding season – from 27 May 2021.

The book is available from high street and online stores at £6.99 RRP and has a reading age of 3+ years.

Find out more about The Land Lines Project.