The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound by Sallie Wolf

5 autographed copies will be given away on Friday, June 17, 2016!

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. Whatever the season, it’s time to write, sketch, paint!

At first glance this is a book about bird identification and behavior. But look more carefully: journaling helps us observe, think, evaluate, record, and create.

Bird observations told in poetry, lists, questions, and journal excerpts are accompanied by watercolor and pen and ink sketches.

Exclusive interview with the author:

1) Describe your writing space…

A great thing about writing is that it is so portable. One of my favorite writing places is in cafes, coffee shops, and restaurants. I usually write in my journal, by hand, with a special fountain pen, although I have been know to bring my laptop to internet cafes. Airplanes are another great place to write—no phone, I don’t like to watch the video, and very few interruptions, since most airlines don’t even feed you anymore. With the weather getting warm, I will be writing on my patio or back porch, enjoying the birds and squirrels, the smell of the lilacs, the fresh air. I have a sun porch in the front of my house which is supposed to be my writing space, but I’m more inclined to set up on the kitchen table. I like coffee or tea when I’m writing. At home, I usually don’t listen to music, but I do enjoy coffee shops that have good soundtracks playing. I love getting an early breakfast, lingering over coffee, and filling my journals with ideas. Then I’ll pull out a notebook with my current rough draft in it or else start writing right in my journal on whatever I’m working on at the time.

2) What was your favorite book growing up and why?

My favorite book when I was growing up was Ernest Thompson Seton’s Two Little Savages. The story, which I loved despite some difficult language and dialect, is about two boys who camp in a teepee in the woods. The book is filled with nature and Indian lore, which fascinated me. There are clear line drawings in the margins identifying plants, animal tracks, birds, and other bits of woodcraft. This book answered all kinds of questions I had about the plants and animals I was seeing in my own explorations in the woods around my home. I read and reread Two Little Savages every summer for years. This book was a mentor text for the writing of my own book. I, too, filled the white space with ink drawings that could help someone learn to identify birds.

3) Do you have any advice for aspiring authors? Or for writers in general?

Find the support you need. I have wonderful writer friends. Four of us are in a critique group, which meets once a month. One member of my writer’s group is my writing buddy—we meet weekly to work on our projects, sometimes at the library, sometimes at our houses or my studio. These weekly workdays keep me focused on the work at hand. I meet with another group of artists and writers monthly to set intentions and goals for the month. We weigh in on how we did on last month’s intentions, and then create new ones. I learn so much from the way other people create, revise, organize their time, or reframe the challenges they face. I co-chair our local SCBWI-Illinois network monthly, and I attend as many SCBWI events as I can fit into my schedule. (SCBWI is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the premiere professional group for people interested in children’s literature.)

I have writer friends on Facebook, and I love to repost announcements of their upcoming books and events. I also read a select number of blogs which provide great advice and information about the changing world of publishing today. This way I can take advantage of other people‘s expertise and let them lead me to the best resources. I read some books about publishing and craft, but have trouble reading as much as I’d like, since I’m a slow reader. I also read as much as I can, both in the genres I write in (poetry and picture books), as well as whatever interests me, both children’s and adult literature, fiction and nonfiction.

4) We’d love to hear all about the specific moment you got the idea for your book. When/how did your book idea actually hit you?

All my art and writing ideas grow out of my journals and out of direct, personal observation. I have always watched birds, and began keeping lists of the birds I see each day in my journals. When I graduated from art school I was invited to teach workshops in the local elementary schools, teaching 2d graders to draw birds and make bird collages to augment their unit on birds. I began sketching birds in my journals so I could think about how to teach kids to draw birds.

After several years of these workshops I realized I had a lot of bird sketches, and I had filled an old calendar with 12 bird collages, one for each month. I was photographing the bird collage when I realized that here was almost half a picture book. Just add text to go with each collage, plus some extra pages, (half title, title page, copyright page, author’s note at the end) and I had the makings of a 32 page picture book. I began to write what I knew from observation about each of the birds on my calendar. My writer’s group let me know right away that my writing was boring and perhaps not geared to the age of my audience. I knew right away that poetry would force me to be more succinct and interesting. I signed up for an on-line poetry class with a children’s poet I knew and focused all my poems on the birds in my calendar. That was the beginning of The Robin Makes A Laughing Sound: A Birder’s Journal.

5) What’s the most unusual or remarkable event that happened while writing this book?

Creating the sample pages for The Robin Makes A Laughing Sound: A Birder’s Journal led to a very unusual collaboration. The editor and art director of Charlesbridge preferred my journal sketches to the collages, and they asked for sample pages to go with the collection of poems which I submitted. I wasn’t sure how to make the kind of journal-scrapbook inspired pages that I saw in my head without cutting up my journals. I was in my local coffee shop, asking questions of the arty baristas, and they said, “Ask Micah. He’s new. He might know.” Micah was a new barista, with an art degree and a wife who was a children’s librarian. He was also a writer, print-maker, and bookbinder. I explained what I was trying to do. “I know this could all be done in Photoshop,” I said, “but I don’t know Photoshop.” Micah said, “I know Photoshop. I can do it for you.”

Micah and I met a few times, scanned some of my sketches, watercolors, handwriting out of my journals, and pages from an antique ledger book. We talked about books we liked for their design, and then Micah created four or six different sample pages using my art and handwriting superimposed on the old ledger pages. The sample pages were stunning, and I presented them to the editor and art director at Charlesbridge. They immediately asked me to create a 48 page dummy, with 18 poems, and submit it with my two favorite sample pages. It took Micah and me about 4 years to complete the pages for the Robin book.

The whole time we were working together I could not believe that Charlesbridge was letting us, two basically unknown people, design and illustrate this book. It is unusual for authors to bring in an illustrator or designer of their own. The publisher usually chooses an illustrator and designs the book in-house. We were given quite a lot of freedom and the page design evolved as much as the text, which had shifted from prose entries organized by months to poems based on the changing seasons. The result is an unusual and beautiful book—if I may say so myself: one I am proud to offer here on Free Book Friday.

About the author:

Wherever she goes, Sallie Wolf takes her journal, fountain pen, ink, and watercolors. These are the tools she uses to record the world she sees. Her journals are a combination of an anthropologist’s field notes, a writer’s notebook, and an artist’s sketchbook. Her children’s books grow out of these journals. Visit Sallie online at

Giveaway info:

Title: The Robin Makes A Laughing Sound: A Birder’s Journal
Author: Sallie Wolf
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Author website:

5 autographed copies will be given away on Friday, June 17, 2016.

Can’t wait? Order a copy now!

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3 Responses to The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound by Sallie Wolf

  1. Lu L. June 11, 2016 at 9:32 am #

    This looks like a delightful book. I’d love to win a copy for a little one who is always sketching!

    • Sallie Wolf June 13, 2016 at 12:24 pm #

      Good luck! The book is a good model of how to keep a journal/sketchbook.

  2. Louann Brown June 14, 2016 at 7:13 am #

    I’ve seen it, it’s delightful! Hope to win a copy to add to my library!