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The Robin Makes A Laughing Sound: A Birder’s Journal

Charlesbridge, 2010


* Starred Review School Library Journal -- June 1, 2010
Wolf’s journal/sketchbook is arranged in eight-page sections by season, each beginning with a list of avian visitors. The charming, eye-catching format includes short dated nature notes written in script, some of them on glued or taped-in torn paper pieces; other paper scraps contain short typeset poems and small, labeled watercolors: an object; a single flower; a bird; a tree in seasonal array. Notes for several poems, showing words or phrases that have been crossed out and changed, are written beside the finished piece. Pen-and-ink sketches capture a baby house sparrow, a V-formation of geese, a downy woodpecker at a suet feeder, and more. Two pages of author’s notes explain how Wolf became interested in birds as a result of a seventh-grade project, and how she developed her journaling style. A page of resources includes several outstanding Web sites, some top-notch guides, and books on birding. This small, instructional guide may provide the inspiration for young authors with even a bit of artistic talent to begin keeping nature journals of their own.

The PlanetEsme Plan: The Best New Children's Books from Esme's Shelf -- April 20, 2010

Not a circle, but round.
Blue, white or green--
Some are speckled brown.
Once they are peck-peck-peckled,
I find two pieces on the ground.

We enter into this very intimate book with a description of how the author's seventh grade teacher shared her own passion for bird-watching, and how the author brought in a stuffed owl to class with results that reverberated years later into the pages that follow. This book is a rare bird: a combination of rhyme and free verse so soundly executed that the reader comes to trust the author for that alone, but no, so much more is conveyed: a scribbly, collaged journal, full of observations, sketches, corrections, drawings and discovery. In fact, this is as much a book about process as it is about poetry or birds, and the author takes the reader to her shoulder and in so many words and pictures, says, "look, look!" until, like a bike rider with training wheels, who discovers a new and independent balance, the reader discovers the ability to look at the natural world on his or her own. That seventh grade teacher's passion is paid forward here. (8 and up)

NSTA Recommends -- March 20, 2011
Delightfully written and exquisitely illustrated, this book gives children and adults a glimpse of a birder’s journal. The author, a noted poet, shows her notes, draft sketches, and watercolors as she observes birds. Then her completed poems reflect her curiosity and fascination with what she's learned.

This NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book for 2011 is a great model for student journals. The metacognition of the author as she thinks about what she knows and what she wants to know will help students understand the processes of science -- especially observation and questioning. It also contains a great deal of concrete information about backyard birds and their behaviors. This is not only a great tool for teaching science and communication arts but also a book that you'll want to hug.

Children's Literature -- March 26, 2010
The handsome binding and pleasing size are just the first part of the instant attraction this collection of poetry about birds and nature exerts over book browsers. The loose watercolors and pen &ink illustrations carry the reader from the front cover right through to the last page listing resources (both electronic and books). Charming is an overused word in describing books, but in this case it is perfect. Wolf's habit of keeping a daily journal of bird sightings, weather phenomena, and sometimes her feelings is a gift and an example for students and adults alike. Deceptively simple poems reflect her delight, surprise, and interest in the various birds that frequent her feeders and yard. She notes the different species and remarks upon particular individuals as they hunt for food, seek shelter, and raise their young. The pages of actual journals and originals on handmade paper were photocopied and utilized for the book. The display type looks as if it were handwritten (which may be harder for younger readers to decipher) while the actual poems are in an easy to read font. The pages appear to have been mounted in the book in a casual manner but the placement is artfully arranged and the tiny sketches on the background paper give additional viewpoints of drawings or snippets of scientific information. In some cases the original wording of a poem will appear, showing the re-writing and refining process in a concrete way for the reader to observe how important the selection of the "exact" word can be, especially in poetry. The poems themselves are thought provoking and varied in style: free verse and more formal rhyme schemes stand side by side with excellent effect for the particular subject matter. The poem "Riddle" has its opening text printed in an egg shape; while the two halves of an egg which has cracked contain the closing line: "Once they are peck-peck-peckled, I find two pieces on the ground." This title is perfect for individual enjoyment but will serve as a wonderful resource in an English or science classroom. Teachers will be pleased to use this book to inspire journal writing, observation, and organization of ideas and materials.

Kirkus Reviews -- February 15, 2010
Longtime bird enthusiast Wolf observes, sketches, paints and writes poems about the robins, juncos, wrens and cardinals that venture near her Illinois home. Here, bits of her original birder's journal are digitally manipulated with simulated torn pieces of paper and adhesive tape to create a clean, inviting scrapbook look. A spread entitled "Spring" features a list of species spotted, a lovely watercolor-and-ink sketch of a crocus, a list of warbler characteristics and a haiku about brown creepers. Thoughtful questions ("February 19 -- Where do birds sleep at night?") and brief cursive notes ("May 2 -- The black cap sits on its head like a black beret") pepper the pages, and the winsome poems range from nursery-rhyme style ("Flippy-floppy, splishy-sploshy-- / robins take a bath. / One bird, two birds, three birds, four-- / it's crowded. Splishy-splash!") to more matter-of-fact free-verse observations of bird behavior. The journal's most charming aspects, however, are the artful sketches and watercolor paintings -- and the endearingly childlike sense of wonder reflected throughout.

Publishers Weekly -- February 15, 2010
This journal strikes a pensive and tranquil note, emphasizing the simple joys to be found in observing nature, birds in particular, rather than providing specific tactics for identifying species. Cursive lists of North American birds appear under a heading for each season, followed by a collage of bird sketches in ink and watercolor, journal entries, and careful observations that take the form of tender, sometimes surprising poems: "A pair of nuthatches used to visit my birdfeeder every day./ That was before West Nile virus/ spread from bird to bird." It should find an audience in nature-lovers, writers, and other contemplative readers.