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How the Birds Got Their Songs (Bilingual edition)

How the Birds Got Their Songs (Bilingual edition)

Regular price $ 17.95

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Travis Zimmerman and Sam Zimmerman

Minnesota Historical Society Press (May 7, 2024)

The Great Spirit challenges all the birds to a contest, and the gift of birdsong is born! This traditional story, told in both English and Ojibwe, explains bird behavior and where humans should go to hear the prettiest of birdsongs.


When Mother Earth was very young and the Great Spirit had created all the beings, he noticed how quiet everything was. As he walked about the earth, listening to the sounds of the animals and the wind and the waters, some birds flying by caught his eye. He knew immediately what he needed to do.

The Great Spirit held a contest so that each bird could earn the song that was just right for its species. He called together all the birds, from the smallest sparrow to the largest hawk, and told them the plan. Each would fly as high in the sky as it could, and when it returned to Mother Earth it would receive its song.

Eagle was certain his strong wings would help him fly highest of all and earn the prettiest song. But he did not know that, while the Great Spirit was talking, the tiny hermit thrush had snuggled into eagle's feathers to take a nap.

All the birds flew and flew, higher and higher, each descending when it was time to return—and each receiving its own special song. But which bird flew the highest? Which one received the prettiest song?

This treasured story, handed down through author Travis Zimmerman's family, features traditional knowledge from the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Grand Portage descendant Sam Zimmerman's vibrant illustrations showcase his stylized artistry and deep appreciation for feathered creatures. Marcus Ammesmaki's retelling in Ojibwemowin brings the story full circle, encouraging language learners to explore this age-old depiction of our natural world—and inviting all readers to cherish the gift of birdsong.

Author Information

Travis Zimmerman is a proud descendant of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. He has been the site manager at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post for fifteen years and has been involved with dozens of Native American organizations, either as an employee or as a board member, over the last three decades. He is the father of two and has two wonderful grandsons.

Artist and educator Sam Zimmerman / Zhaawanoogiizhik is a direct descendant of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Ojibwe). Drawing on ancestral connections, Zimmerman continues the Anishinaabe tradition of storytelling, embedding the themes of environmental stewardship and conservation of the North Shore in his studio and public art commissions. Zimmerman's debut book is Following My Spirit Home: A Collection of Paintings and Stories, and his work is held in private collections in the United States and abroad. He lives in Duluth, Minnesota, and regularly explores the natural beauty of Minnesota's North Shore. View his studio projects and current creations on Instagram @CraneSuperior.

Marcus Ammesmaki / Aanikanootaagewin is a K/1 teacher at Waadookodaading Ojibwe Language Institute in Hayward, Wisconsin.


  • Hardcover with printed dust jacket
  • Ages 3 to 7
  • 32 pages
  • 10 in H | 10 in W | 0.5 in T
  • ISBN: 9781681342856

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