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The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: a Birder's Journal Review by Melissa Theberge

By Sallie Wolf
Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
85 Main Street
Watertown, MA 02472

Nature study is an activity many homeschooling families wish to pursue in their studies, and a book like this may just provide the inspiration necessary to pursue journaling and sketching. The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound is not a blank journal for a birder (as I thought at first), but rather, a beautiful collection of bird observations, notes, poetry, sketches, and even paintings. This eclectic collection of art is beautiful to look at and read, and it just might inspire a future birder to get started today.

At just 48 pages, this compact and very attractive book made me want to go out and purchase a fresh journal in which to start my own observations of birds. Author Sallie Wolf shares something magical and special when she invites us into the world of birding. After a very brief introduction to bird watching, the heart of the book begins. Divided into four sections by season, we first see what appears to be a hand-written list of all the birds Wolf observed in spring. This is followed by a collection of typed poems, surrounded by art and other notes that look like handwriting. The artistic look of the page is simple, clean, and somehow personalized to look like a real journal, with what seem like taped-on sketches, rough-edged squares of brown with poetry about spring birds, black pencil sketches, and almost abstract watercolor paintings of beautiful birds of the season. The handwriting is actually a creative font, but its variations of size and tilt create the illusion of a real journal. Of course, the book is not rough-edged or handwritten at all, but rather it contains smooth white pages with scanned art and digitally created rustic papers. But it's all beautiful enough to make you feel like you are holding the author's real bird journal.

As the book progresses, the other three seasons are presented in similar fashion but not in a formulaic predictable way, In fact, each season has unique sketches, poems, and paintings, all presented in unique combinations on the pages. A note at the front of the book indicates that the paintings and sketches are actually scanned from the author's original journal, which I believe is what contributes to the beauty and natural appeal of the book.

The book concludes with the author's note about journal use, followed by a reference list of books and websites to encourage new birders on their adventure. This small book is only about 6 x 9 inches in size with a red fabric spine and a lovely cover of the author's art.

Although my initial assumption about the book was mistaken, I still found a measure of enjoyment in reading this book. We are casual birdwatchers in our home, and using this book's seasonal chapters has already provided unexpected inspiration for journaling and sketching amongst our children. I'm not sure that the book would serve as a critical resource for nature study, but I do think it makes an outstanding supplement and would make a lovely gift for a nature-loving child of any age. It is not juvenile in its presentation as to offend a teenager, yet neither is it written in a way to detract young children from enjoying the art and poetry. I am pleased to recommend this book, and I find the author to be inspiring and encouraging even to me, a novice birdwatcher and reluctant sketch artist.

Product review by Melissa Theberge, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March 2011