By Susan Wroble

Susan Wroble is a Denver-based children’s author with a focus on science-based stories. When she is not writing, you can find Susan trying to transform her yard into a native plant habitat or working at Colorado Children’s Hospital with the family’s therapy dog. She has a lifelong love of birds, perhaps instilled at birth with her middle name—Burd.

If you are searching for a book to draw kids into a love of birding, ornithologist Donald Kroodsma’s Listen to the Birds might be the perfect fit. Kroodsma, a birdsong specialist, is best known for his books for adults: The Singing Life of Birds, Birdsong by the Seasons, and Listening to a Continent Sing.

In Listen to the Birds, Kroodsma teamed up with illustrator and designer Léna Mazilu and interactive developer Yoann Guény to create a nonfiction child’s picture book of common North American birds that is accompanied by an augmented reality “Birdie Memory” app. With the app downloaded onto a phone and the phone camera pointed to a bird in the book, the bird seems to come alive, move — and sing. The effect is completely enchanting.

From the publisher’s standpoint, the book is aimed at children in grades 1-3, but readers have given it a much wider age range, from 4-11 years. Note that this is not a book to send off to children in the younger age of that range for them to read on their own, since the reading level (860 Lexile) is typically children aged 11-14. Instead, this is a book to read with kids. Mazilu’s richly patterned, brilliantly colored illustrations invite readers into a deeper exploration of the birds on each spread.

Listen to the Birds is also a perfect book to pair with a morning hike with children. The book’s structure is brilliant—Kroodsma divides the book into two sections: a dawn walk in Eastern North America, and a second walk in Western North America. In each, he starts the imagined walk in a park before heading into edge habitat and then into forest, and along the way introduces the readers to the common birds in each of those habitats. In the eastern park on the edge of town, for example, we meet the American Robin, the Northern Cardinal, the Tufted Titmouse, and the Blue Jay. For each bird, Kroodsma has given the common mnemonic of the song, several paragraphs with details about the bird, and a fun fact.

This is a book that could be read in its entirety before your hike, then again in short sections, focusing on the 3-4 birds in that habitat and then continuing the hike before reading the next section. Using the interactive Birdie Memory app to listen to each bird before heading into the next portion of your hike will assist kids in identifying these birds by their morning song. Along with the animation and song, the app gives a bit of information on each bird, their scientific name, and a link to a sonogram to replay the song.

The back matter in this book is especially rich. Kroodsma provides additional resources, as well as a glossary that covers in more detail such things as innate song, immediate variety of song, and eventual variety. The “Variety in Birdsong” section explains dialects, repertoires, patterns, and variations. In other sections, Kroodsma explains why birdsong is seasonal, and the relationship between happiness and song, while “Listening with Your Eyes” gives an introduction to reading a spectrogram.

With its treasure trove of details on song, behavior, and habitats, this book and app combination is so engaging that adult readers may find themselves new facts right alongside the kids.


Listen to the Birds by Donald Kroodsma, illustrated by Léna Mazilu, with Birdie Memory app by Léna Mazilu and Yoann Guény

Norton Young Readers, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-324-03103-1

$19.95 USA; $25.95 Canada

64 pages, Grade level 1-3 (per publisher), Lexile 860

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