Olivia's Birds: Saving the Gulf

About a year ago, the National Audubon Society received a handwritten letter adorned with an illustration of a cardinal in red plumage. The sender had just learned about the tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and wanted to do her part to help. Her idea? Sell her own avian artwork and donate the proceeds to Audubon. She was 10.

Now pushing 12, that young artist-philanthropist—Olivia Bouler—has become something of an (inter)national celebrity, painting hundreds of original bird pieces, making headlines, and raising upwards of $200,000. She’s not just artistic, however. A self-professed bird-lover, Olivia aspires to attend Cornell University to study ornithology. It seems only natural, then, that she come out with her own field guide of sorts: Olivia’s Birds: Saving the Gulf (Sterling Children’s Books), released in time for the one-year anniversary of the oil spill.

Some proceeds from the sale of Olivia's book go to Audubon.

The book boasts a sizeable flock of Olivia’s colorful paintings accompanied by informational text. “[The publishers] gave her two weeks to write the book,” says Nadine Bouler, Olivia’s mom, “she sat down at a laptop; [in] two weekends, she banged out text.”

Thumbing through, you’ll see “everyday birds,” such as a cardinal like the one that started it all—which kids can see right outside their windows—to “endangered and extinct birds,” such as the kiwi (one of my personal favorites). A brown, shaggy-feathered ball with a long cream-colored bill, Olivia’s take on New Zealand’s national bird is charming in its dim-yet-kind-eyed demeanor. “I am really proud of [my book],” Olivia says, “I really love how it comes together, how it really shows kids how to help the environment.” She adds that she’s hoping to do another title, albeit a “chapter book.”

As for her itinerant life, Olivia’s on book tour and other travels; you can follow them on her website. The past few days she’s been in the Gulf region, according to her site, a region that she still cares deeply about. “It’s like a light in the cave to see how many people came together to clean up the oil, to see how many people cared,” she says.

Coming up at the end of April, the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove in Pennsylvania will present Olivia with the 2011 Audubon Award for Art Inspiring Conservation. The honor is intended for an individual who, “through [his or her] body of work or a single seminal work, uses art to communicate the real and intrinsic value of nature, interpret conservation challenges, and inspire humanity to take actions that will protect and preserve birds, other wildlife, and the world we share.” Upon accepting the award, Olivia will be in good company: Last year’s recipient was Pulitzer-prize winning author Scott Weidensaul.

The Four Seasons Resorts is also sending the young artist to Costa Rica where she’ll distribute copies of her book to kids there, thanks to a grant from the Youth Service of America and Disney’s Friends for Change.

Olivia was practicing the saxophone when I called her a couple of weeks ago. Okay, so she’s musical, she paints, she’s bird-informed. It’s tempting to call her preternatural. And maybe she is. But she has a relatable youthfulness, too: Later in the day we talked, she was to be honored by the Islanders hockey team. “I’m really excited,” she said. “I’m gonna get a cupcake this time.” For the record, her favorite is chocolate brownie.

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