16 Reasons Pigeons Need Celebrating n Kathleen Rooney’s New Novel!


Doves get loads of love.

Pigeons get nada. Make that less than nothing.

Why?

As an animal lover since birth, the kind who was severely bitten by a dog when I was six yet who still never feared them, pigeon haters have always mystified me.

Hmmm…

Doves: white

Pigeons: colored

Hmmm…

Doves: a little trimmer

Pigeons: a little stouter

Hmmm…

DO NOT TAKE A LOOK AT THIS LINK that elaborates on what I’m getting at if you’re offended by ribald humor with liberal use of the f-word. FOR EVERYONE, THERE’S THIS LINK.

What do a penguin and a pigeon have in common? Sure, they’re both birds, and one might consider what I mentioned about doves vs. pigeons. In their case, however, that’s not what I’m getting to.

Marvelously, Penguin Books is publishing Kathleen Rooney’s most recent novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, about a heroic pigeon!

Kathleen’s Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, sent me into such complete nirvana that I invited her to guest post on Happiness Between Tails—and she did!!—in this prior post.

Today she’s back to tell us about the inspiration behind Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey and 16 reasons pigeons need to be celebrated.

This is a link to buy Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey from your own favorite local bookstore.

Kathleen Rooney and a friend unbox her latest novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.
Kathleen Rooney and a friend unbox her latest novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.

On the Under-Appreciated Marvelousness of Pigeons by Kathleen Rooney

My novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey—a World War I story narrated in the first-person alternately by a homing pigeon and an American military officer, both of them real-life heroes—has just been released by Penguin. The fact that the publisher for this book is named after a bird delights me because penguins and pigeons seem like an auspicious pairing.

Of course, the story of World War I has been told often but never from the perspective of the courageous messenger pigeon who saved the Lost Battalion and helped to determine the war’s outcome. Cher Ami was so famous in her day that when she died as an indirect result of the injuries she sustained in the conflict, they had her taxidermied and put on display in the Smithsonian. You can still visit her there today in their Price of Freedom exhibit, where she sits in her glass case among other important communication equipment. My hope is that if you love pigeons and decide to give this book a read, then you’re in for a treat, and if you don’t, then you’re about to change your mind.

Cher Ami, WWI heroine, at the Smithsonian.
Cher Ami, WWI heroine, at the Smithsonian.

Penguin understands that not everyone shares my admiration for pigeons, so as part of their marketing campaign, they asked me to come up with a set of pigeon facts designed to endear the birds to other people as much as pigeons have endeared themselves to me. Thinking fondly of the pigeon couple, Coo d’Etat and Walter Pigeon (as my spouse and I named them) who moved in under the eaves while I was writing my book, I set to work compiling those facts.

Pigeon couple, Coo d’Etat and Walter Pigeon.
Pigeon couple, Coo d’Etat and Walter Pigeon.

Coo and Walter and their babies Feather Locklear and Molly Wingwald have long since moved on with their lives, but the pigeon facts remain, and I hope they’ll inspire you to look more closely at these remarkable birds and also to give my novel a read.

Coo and Walter's babies, Feather Locklear and Molly Wingwald.
Coo and Walter’s babies, Feather Locklear and Molly Wingwald.
  1. The word “pigeon” is a French translation of the English word “dove.” There’s no scientific difference between the two; they’re the same.
  2. The common city pigeon (Columba livia) is a descendant of the rock dove and is one of the first birds ever domesticated by humans, probably dating back to about 4,500 BCE in Mesopotamia.
  3. Humans and pigeons have lived closely together for millennia, thanks in part to the birds’ phenomenal homing skills, which allow them to return to their nests from up to 1,300 miles away.
  4. In addition to being good navigators, pigeons are extremely strong with high endurance and have been known to fly as far as 1,500 miles on a single trip. They can fly as high as 6,000 feet and average a speed of almost 77 miles per hour, with top speeds of almost 93 miles per hour having been attained by some birds.
  5. Because of pigeons’ homing talent, humans have called upon pigeons to carry the news throughout history, ranging from messages on flood levels up and down the Nile in ancient Egypt, to the results of the Olympic Games in Greece in the 8th century. As early as 500 BCE, the emperor of China used pigeons to receive messages in Beijing from outer provinces because a bird could travel in as many hours as it took a horse and rider days. Hannibal used pigeons during his siege of Rome, and Julius Caesar sent them to relay messages from his military campaigns in Gaul. Genghis Khan and his grandson Kublai Khan created a pigeon post that spanned a sixth of the world. Besieged Parisians relied on pigeon post in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, and, of course, pigeons served as messengers in both WWI and WWII.During World War I, over 100,000 pigeons were used on the battlefield.
  6. Pigeons are included in the Animals in War Memorial in Hyde Park London in honor—as the dedication says—of “all the animals that served and died alongside British and allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time.” It was unveiled in 2004 on the 90th anniversary of the start of World War I.
  7. People didn’t start calling pigeons “rats with wings” until this false idea was popularized in the 1980 movie Stardust Memories; pigeons are actually quite clean and not at all disease-ridden.
  8. Pigeons do not migrate, but rather adapt to one environment and remain there year-round—a lot like humans.
  9. Pigeons are one of a relatively small number of species who pass the mirror test for self-recognition.
  10. Pigeons can distinguish different humans in photographs.
  11. According to a 2016 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pigeons can be trained to recognize dozens of words, with the most accomplished pigeon being able to learn as many as 60.
  12. According to a 1994 study published in The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, pigeons can successfully learn to discriminate between paintings by Monet and Picasso.
  13. When pigeons mate, they mate for life.
  14. Male and female pigeons share equal responsibility in raising their chicks. Both take turns sitting on the eggs and both feed the babies pigeon milk—a secretion that both male and female birds produce in their crops.
  15. Pigeons are still kept as pets, bred, and raced around the world; in 2019, a Belgian racing pigeon named Armando sold for $1.4 million. The auction house said that Armando’s athleticism made him, in soccer terms, the Lionel Messi of the avian world.
  16. The brilliant inventor Nikola Tesla fell in love with a white pigeon who visited him at the window of his room in the Hotel St. Regis in New York City: “I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was purpose to my life,” he wrote.

About Kathleen Rooney: she’s a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a collective of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poems on demand. Her most recent books include the novel Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk and The Listening Room: A Novel of Georgette and Loulou Magritte. Her reviews and criticism appear in the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Chicago magazine, and her World War I novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey is available now from Penguin.

Do you like pigeons? (It’s ok if you didn’t before this post.)

When Life Gives You Oranges: chat+video w artist Uzo Njoku by da-AL


Books + Art = Happiness

Dear readers, that’s why, when I learned of Uzo Njoku through Bust Magazine (a lifestyle/feminist publication started in 1993), I thought of you. Many of you are novelists like me, most of you writers and creatives, and lovers of books.

"When Things Fall Apart," by Uzo Njoku: "My favorite book by Chinua Achebe."
“When Things Fall Apart,” by Uzo Njoku: “My favorite book by Chinua Achebe.”

Her self-published coloring book, “The Bluestocking Society,” launched the statistics-turned-art-major a couple of years ago when she was a 22-year-old college student. It’s filled with images and facts about all sorts of wonderful women throughout history. She also offers free printable coloring pages.

Uzo moved from Lagos, Nigeria, to the United States as a child. Here’s a writeup about her by the University of Virginia, and here’s another by their news magazine.

"When Life Gives You Oranges" by Uzo Njoku: "I created this when dancing the idea of me being an orange farmer if I was not an artist."
“When Life Gives You Oranges” by Uzo Njoku: “I created this when dancing the idea of me being an orange farmer if I was not an artist.”

Along with Uzo’s comments on these paintings, what follows are the answers she kindly emailed back to me…

Question: How does being bi-cultural play out in your day-to-day life and influence your art? And in terms of how you regard your own loveliness and potential?

Answer: Being in the middle of two worlds gives me more content to work with. My work addresses important issues such as identity, duality and spirituality, yet is approached with a particular openness snd beauty. The themes addressed in my work stem directly from my life experience as a female artist living and working between cultures, and yet the aim is to show how a single person’s ‘double vision’ can produce images that possess much wider social effects by collapsing racial and cultural borders.

"Stretch," by Uzo Njoku: "Exploring the limitations of the body with a simple leg stretch image against the stark contrast of a flower pattern."
“Stretch,” by Uzo Njoku: “Exploring the limitations of the body with a simple leg stretch image against the stark contrast of a flower pattern.”

Question: Many of my readers (myself included) are struggling creatives. How do you juggle making art, marketing, fulfilling orders, and attending university? How did you initially let people know about your amazing coloring book? How do you continue to expose people to your art?

Answer: Everything I have done starts from my friends supporting me. Constantly telling others about my work and word-of-mouth helping to spread the news. A lot of artists don’t have a business mindset, and I believe that is how a lot of them do get exploited initially. I took an arts administration class in college, and that really opened my eyes to what goes on behind the scenes. This helped me understand more what it takes for shows to happen and the right people to reach out to.

I studied Statistics in college before switching over to art, so by nature, I am a very technical person. I see numbers alongside art a lot and understood when it was time to pay a marketing personnel to run ads when I released a new product on my website. I don’t really know exactly what to advise people because everyone is different, but I learned everything from Google and YouTube videos. So a lot of research.

"Strangers," by Uzo Njoku: "I had a conversation at a bar with a man who essentially told me everything going on in my life, and then I went about my normal life the next day because we were still just strangers even though he told me everything."
“Strangers,” by Uzo Njoku: “I had a conversation at a bar with a man who essentially told me everything going on in my life, and then I went about my normal life the next day because we were still just strangers even though he told me everything.”

Question: How has the horrific politics of late as well as the pandemic affected you and your work?

Answer: I am not a social artist, so I do not create art based on political events. But in regards to Oluwatoyin passing away, I feel it was my duty to beautify her image because I know a lot of media outlets would try to show her in a negative light. A good amount of the sales during this period I have been able to donate out to small BLM groups and artists struggling during this pandemic.

Artist Uzo Njoku in her studio.
Uzo Njoku in her art studio.

Question: How do you find and choose your marketing personnel?

Answer: My marketing personnel reached out to me. He had been following me for years and felt that he could reach new customers for me. Basically, anyone who understands how to market on Social Media is an asset.

Question: What are one or more mistakes you see artists making business-wise most often?

Answer: I would say the biggest mistake is forgetting to follow up on business taxes when tax season comes by. It can bite you if you’re not careful. Also, you need to get into the habit of having a second pair of eyes look at contracts with you, whether they are those of a family member, a friend, or a professional.

Dear reader, if you didn’t do what you do now, what would farm oranges…or what?…