Robin’s Home

illus. by Candace Whitman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2001).
“Wonderfully reassuring for anxious little fledglings of any species.” Kirkus Reviews



Most of my writing begins in the sort of nests I made as a girl who dragged pillows and blankets to corners or under windows. They are good places to think and dream and hide a little, though like the nests birds call home, at least the outer rims are often in plain sight.
I considered writing about these sorts of nests, which most children make, but decided to create a tribute to birds’ magnificent creations of twigs, mud, pine needles, and the occasional bit of string or gum wrappers. This gave me more excuse to stare out the window as well as make trips to the library. I knew my protagonists would need to talk, but I wanted to keep their actions as close as I could to the habits of real birds.

I chose robins over other pretty birds not just because they live all around the country, but because I admire the way the moms and dads share nest-building and child-rearing chores. A bonus was that I didn’t have to search for a plain but not-too-cute name. I would call my hero “Robin.”

I took notes about robins as I read and observed and chose a plot: Robin leaves nest. After gathering more details than I could use, I imagined my way into my characters, and wrote more notes about how the nest might feel and smell, and the sounds a baby might hear around him. Busy and patient as a robin parent flying back and forth with twigs, I tried one sentence here, another there, tossing aside words that stuck out, patting others into place.
Finally I tucked the manuscript safely into an envelope. It flew to New York, where it was caught by my editor’s safe hands. She passed it on to Candace Whitman, who painted green-green grass and clear blue skies and tore paper to shape robins.

Now the book is in the world. I can read it to kids who sit on floors or laps more often than in chairs, but, of course, it’s autobiography , too. What was hard and wonderful for me at three -- finding and keeping a safe place, taking risky jumps -- still makes up most of the drama in my life. Tell everything, save nothing, I exhort myself when I write, and once my words fit together as snugly as a small, round nest, I think I’ve said everything I know. Okay, at least for now.


Activities

After my editor showed me some of the artist’s early sketches, we discussed some robin habits, such as how long fledglings stay in a nest and what they usually do when they first venture out. My editor was interested in things that had to be left out of a very short book and she suggested that I write an afterword. I laughed as I imagined four-year-olds taking notes for science reports, but, of course, it was a great suggestion. There’s a lot to know about robins, and curious readers can find some answers in the notes at the back of Robin’s Home. I hope they’ll draw birds, sculpt birds, look for nests, and check out guide books.

Look Robins live in all fifty states as well as in other countries. Can you spot robins near your home? They’re among the least shy of birds! How do robins look different from other nearby birds? How do robins find food? How do they walk? Try walking like them!
Listen Every kind of bird sings with a particular rhythm. Can you learn to recognize a robin’s tune?

Write and draw I love to think and write in a sort of nest I make by piling up pillows. Do you have a place where you feel safe and happy? Draw or write about your favorite “nest.”
Help You can help robins make nests by leaving short bits of string or yarn (6-8 inches) outside for them to find. Robins use mud to patch together their nests, so if there hasn’t been much rain, you can help by putting out water -- or mixing your own puddles!
Robins like to dine off of lawns. You can help keep their “table” safe by asking your parents not to use harmful chemicals on the grass.

Read Candace Whitman created some adorable robins and lovely landscapes with watercolors and torn paper. Her books, such as The Night is Like an Animal and Now it is Morning will entice young readers into gentle worlds. Even her web-site is as soothing as her palette! You’ll find activities for the very young and more examples of her artwork at www.Candacewhitman.com

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