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Beauty and the Beak

Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle

Deborah Lee Rose and Jane Veltkamp
Persnickety Press
2017
40 pp.
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In 2005, an emaciated eagle was discovered outside of a landfill in Alaska. She had been shot in the face, causing catastrophic damage to her upper beak. Such a grim story may seem a strange foundation on which to build a book for children, but the tale takes a happier turn when the raptor, nicknamed “Beauty,” is rescued and eventually outfitted with a 3D-printed prosthetic. In Beauty and the Beak, children’s author Deborah Lee Rose and raptor biologist Jane Veltkamp team up to share the story of Beauty’s recovery and the scientists and engineers who made it possible.

The book begins with a brief overview of the eagle’s life before her injury, emphasizing all of the important ways a bird of prey’s beak contributes to its well-being. Here, the authors tell stories from Beauty’s perspective. This works well when, for example, they invite us to picture her first flight (“[A] sudden gust of wind lifted her into the air. For a moment, she was flying!”). But sensitive readers may become distressed when her violent injury is similarly described (“The eagle’s face burned. She couldn’t see… It even hurt for her to breathe.”).

The story then shifts to raptor biologist “Janie” (Jane Veltkamp) and mechanical engineer “Nate” (Nate Calvin), who—together with a team of dental professionals—create and implant the bird’s nylon-based polymer beak. Up close photos and digital renderings complement the text, which offers a simple but informative description of the scanning, modeling, and manufacturing steps behind the creation of the prosthetic.

In an afterword, we learn that Beauty’s real beak has since changed shape, meaning that the original prosthetic no longer fits. To a reader, this is slightly unsatisfying. But then again, real stories—even those with fairy tale–inspired titles—rarely end with a perfect “happily ever after.”