Extraordinary imagery and rich language spark the reader's imagination as they enter the creative world of a young girl.

From award-winning author Meg McKinlay and celebrated artist Matt Ottley comes a moving and visually stunning picture book that celebrates the transformative power of the creative process from inception through recognition to celebration and releasing into the world. We shadow the protagonist as she contemplates the blue print of an idea, collects the things that inspire from the natural world to shape a bird. And breathes life into it before letting it fly free. It shows how small things, combined with a little imagination and a steady heart, can transform into works of magic.

Meg McKinlay and Matt Ottley have been awarded the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators Crystal Kite Award

How To Make A Bird by Meg McKinlay and Matt Ottley named the CBCA Picture Book of the Year 2021

How To Make A Bird, winner of The WA Premier’s Prize for Writing for Children

Winner of the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Children's Literature 2021


Meg McKinlay is the author of a treasure trove of books ranging from picture books and young adult fiction through to poetry for adults. Raised in central Victoria, in a TV- and car-free household, Meg was a bookish kid, in love with words and excited by dictionaries. On the long and winding path to becoming a children’s writer, she has worked a variety of jobs including swim instructor, tour guide, translator and teacher. Meg is now a full-time writer and lives near the ocean in Fremantle, Western Australia, where she is always busy cooking up more books.

Matt Ottley is an internationally acclaimed and multi-award winning artist, working equally across the fields of literature, visual arts and music. Matt has a plethora of published picture books to his name and his awards include the CBCA Picture Book of the Year, the Queensland and NSW Premier's Awards for literature and the International IBBY Australia Illustrator Award and has been shortlisted for the Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. In 2014, Matt was made an Endorsed Yamaha Artist for his work as a composer. He has worked with The West Australian Symphony Orchestra on scores for many of his picture books, and has had a large symphonic work recorded by the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra and the Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno, Czech Republic. His music has also been performed at the Perth International Arts Festival, the Perth Fringe Festival and the Hong Kong International Literary Festival.


If you love a picture book that speaks to your soul and leaves thoughts and images in your head long after you close the cover, I highly recommend How to Make a Bird.

Kids' Book Review

How To Make a Bird is a stunner of a picture book. In heart-shivering, lyrical prose, Meg McKinlay details the process of creating a bird, and, in doing so, illuminates the transformative potential of the creative process


one of those special ones – thought-provoking, challenging and an absolute delight to explore


McKinlay’s tone is stately, the pace deliciously deliberate—“But when you see it sitting,/ cold as a statue, you will know/ that there is more to a bird than/ these things you have given it”—allowing space for readers to savor Ottley’s luminous pigmented ink illustrations, which reveal extratextual details, for example about the child’s bird-making materials. A beautiful rumination on creating. Starred review.


Delicately written and illustrated, How to Make a Bird is a divine picture book that speaks many different meanings to the reader.

Educate Empower Blog

As with all great creations, How to Make a Bird is almost too complex to comprehend yet Ottley’s visually arresting illustrations work in perfect unison with a narrative that reads like a verse novel. Words grace images that are clean and uncluttered yet perfectly precise. I do not know anyone who does penumbral clouds as stunningly as Matt Ottley; I could stare at them all day, lost in their infinite beauty. This book is the creators’ bird. It is simple magic. It is unexpected pleasure. It enchants and entrances as it guides us through the intriguing anatomy of birds and imagination. It is an ode to the natural world, of making and making do then moving on. It’s a transformative vision of life that every child and adult must experience.

Dims Write Stuff

How to Make a Bird is an exquisitely unique book that captures both the heart and the imagination…This is a beautiful book that speaks of art and imagination and encourages all children to delight in the magic of independent tinkering and creating.


Meg McKinlay’s lyrical sentences give the reader space to explore the story and reflect on its imagery. Matt Ottley’s expansive illustrations have a beauty, airiness and surreal dream-like quality that perfectly complement the text and make the esoteric tangible. This story will appeal to people of all ages who love to reflect, imagine, dream and create. I’ve read that the author took 16 years to find a home for this introspective narrative. It was worth the wait.

CBCA: Reading Time

This story shows how even the smallest idea can be transformed into a work of beauty and creativity.The illustrations by artist Matt Ottley are simply stunning. Muted in tones but steeped in detail they complement the text perfectly. One reading is not enough of this book, there is so much to be gained by poring over each page and searching for more clues to understand the flow of the story. A truly inspiring and gentle read.


This story, infused with an ethereal, wondrous tone, is for creative souls everywhere, those who know what it is to imagine something and to experience the joy of bringing it to life with care—and the bittersweet feeling of letting it go and moving on.


Detailed, delicate and gently philosophical; in its movement from the practical to the universal this book suggests that there is more to a life than replicated parts. McKinley and Ottley expand poignantly on the wonder of migratory birds while alluding to all-encompassing issues such as climate change in the illustrative reference to a house built high above the tide. There is a subtle but definite suggestion to take chances and breathe life into new ideas — perhaps the house so high is a reference to the child living with her head in the clouds, perhaps it is simply the place she goes to explore her ideas.

CBCA Judges


Prime Minister's Literary Awards, Children's Literature
CBCA Book of the Year Awards, Picture Book
Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards, Writing for Children
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Crystal Kite Award
Queensland Literary Awards, Children's Book Award
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