Birdology: A Beautiful Way for Budding Ornithologists to Connect With Nature


Birdology: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Birds

•        Targeted Audience: Upper Elementary & Middle School (Ages 7-12)
•        Genre: Nonfiction Science Middle Reader
•        Author: Monica Russo
•        Photographer: Kevin Byron
•        Publisher: Chicago Review Press
•        Publication Date: January 1, 2015
•        Binding: Paperback
•        Dimensions: 11″ x 8.5″
•        Printing: Full Color
•        Length: 128 Pages
•        Retail: $15.95
•        ISBN: 978-1613749494


© Copyright – Image from Birdology with permission from Chicago Review Press

Like all other Chicago Review Press titles, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Birdology. My husband, daughter and I are all enthusiastic birdwatchers, since we live in Miami and are avid hikers and campers and often explore the Florida Everglades. We Floridians are treated to some of the most spectacular birds that are endemic to the tropics in the southern part of the state and others that migrate here to keep warm during the winter months. I’ve shared a few of my own photos of birds at he end of this post.

DSC_0008Get Outside and Explore

Birdology introduces middle readers to art of birdwatching, giving them a well-rounded lesson in the science of birds and encouraging them to go outdoors and explore. This is not a field guide per se, rather it is a book that fosters independent study of all things bird related. Essentially, author Monica Russo gives readers the tools they need to observe birds in their natural habitats and understand what it is they are seeing. Birdology enlightens and inspires middle readers to become amateur ornithologists and expand their love of birds and respect for the environment.

© Copyright – Image from Birdology with permission from Chicago Review Press

Everything You Need to Get Started Observing and Studying Birds


© Copyright – Image from Birdology with permission from Chicago Review Press

The book is divided into eight chapters covering everything from the anatomy of birds and their markings, to their locations, habitats, diets and migrations. Russo’s text is carefully written for the age of the audience, making it easy to comprehend. I’m impressed with the way she takes care to explain the science of birds without bogging the reader down and without boring them either. She gives explicit directions about what to look for when observing, and uses examples of different species to demonstrate the specifics of what she is talking about. She uncovers many fascinating facts that keep readers engaged and eager to learn more.

30 Activities and Observations and Many Outstanding Photographs

DSC_0006There are 30 activities and observations included, and honestly, every single one of them appeal to me. They each fall under one of three headings: 1) Try This 2) Look For or 3) Listen For. For example, Try This: Start a Bird Journal, Listen For: a Peakcock’s Scream and Look For: How Birds Drink and Bathe. Other activities include Starting a Bird Sketchbook, Observing the Way Birds Walk and Hop, Making an Orange Feeder for Orioles, Looking for V-Shaped Flocks and more.

Kevin Byron’s photographs offer some close ups with incredible detail, adding depth and interest to the learning experience. It must have taken a great deal of time, patience and photographic skills to get the job done. It’s almost as if the birds knew they were being photographed and posed for him!  Monica Russo adds even more to the mix with her drawings of birds and activity instructions.

What This Book Teaches


© Copyright – Image from Birdology with permission from Chicago Review Press

Where do I begin? Birdology is an incredible teaching tool for so may reasons. It encourages middle readers to think like scientists – to sit quietly and observe, to notice differences and similarities among species, to use their eyes and ears as tools and to take notes about what they observe. It teaches readers that they must get outside to explore the natural world around them, to experience wildlife in person, using just their natural senses as tools. It inspires them to do what they can to protect the natural habitats of birds and learn about what they need to survive and thrive. There’s a terrific Glossary in the back of the book, a List of Resources, including wildlife organizations and a Teacher’s Guide too.

Why You Should Buy This Book

Birdology reminds us all that nature is right outside our doors, just waiting to be explored. In order to get children interested in science, they must spend time discovering the earth’s natural wonders. There are so many fascinating lessons about birds to be learned, and Monica Russo guides readers through that learning process in such a way that they can lead themselves to a better understanding of the birds common to their own cities and states. The book is fascinating to read, the photographs are wonderful to look at and Birdology does a delightful job of turning middle readers into young ornithologists and protectors of planet earth.

About the Author and Photographer


Monica Russo is the author and illustrator of several children’s nature books, including Amazing Insects, Chilly Creatures, Tree Almanac, and Watching Nature. She wrote the “Nature Notes” column for southern Maine’s Sun Chronicle for many years. She is an experienced birdwatcher and a founding member of the Maine Entomological Society.

Kevin Byron is a photographer who specializes in nature, wildlife, and ship images and whose work has appeared in many books, magazines, and newspapers including Watching Nature, BirdScope Magazine, the New York Times, and the Kennebunk Post. Both Monica and  Kevin live in Kennebunk, Maine.

Further Learning

  1. Utilize the Teacher’s Guide in the back of the book.
  2. Learn more about birds with National Geographic.
  3. Get an Audubon Field Guide to North American Birds.
  4. Check out many more titles in the Chicago Review Press Young Naturalist Series.

Some Photographs of Birds I’ve taken:

DSC_0261© Copyright by Debbie Glade – Image of a Burrowing Owl taken in a field near a high school in my South Florida neighborhood


© Copyright by Debbie Glade – Image of an Egret in flight taken along Loop Road in the Florida Everglades


© Copyright by Debbie Glade – Close up image of a cormorant taken on the Anhinga Trail near the Flamingo Entrance to National Everglades Park


© Copyright by Debbie Glade – Image of a Purple Gallinule at Shark Valley in the Florida Everglades

If you love this book, you should also check out:


Politics, Anything But Boring: Interview with Author Ronald Reis

RReisAuthor Ronald Reis has the rare talent of taking politics – what would normally be considered a boring subject to children – and turning into a fascinating read. His latest non-fiction book, US Congress for Kids is full of factual stories that read more like a compelling novel than a tedious textbook. His philosophy is that if kids can learn riveting details about what goes on behind the scenes in Congress, they’ll want to stay on top of what’s going on in our government and understand the importance of making their own voices heard. What I like best about Ron’s books is that they are just as beneficial for adults to read as they are for kids. US Congress for Kids is one of those great non-fiction books you simply just can’t put down, once you start reading it. And when you’re finished, you’ll be a whole lot more knowledgeable about how our laws are made.

Most books on the subject of politics and history for kids used in schools are quite dull, but US Congress for Kids, is anything but. How did you manage to keep what is normally learned by rote memorization, so fascinating?

To the extent that I was, possibly, able to do that, I try to remember it is all about people, all about their stories. You do not need to “manufacture” drama; there is plenty of that in an institution as diverse as the US Congress. I tried to look for stories that are engaging and exciting, yet illustrate a broader issue.

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Your description of how Congress is structured and what they do is the best explanation on the subject I’ve ever read. Did you find it challenging to write about that for a child audience, and do you think most American adults understand how Congress is structured?

A recent survey pointed out that nearly two-thirds of adult Americans (64 percent, to be exact) cannot even name the three branches of government (Executive Legislative and Judicial), let alone understand much about the US Congress. The turnout in the recent mid-term election was the lowest it has been since 1942.

It is always challenging to write for a younger audience because you know you have a limited amount of space to devote to a subject. That forces the writer to be concise and direct—to get to the point. With longer works, a writer can tend to go on and on, often losing the reader.

Watch this Politically-Challenged: Texas Tech Edition Video

What else do you think teachers can do to make the subjects of politics and history more interesting in school?

We often associate hands-on learning with technical subjects, though, of course, there is plenty of hands-on activity in the arts and sciences. We need more in the social sciences as well, especially at the Middle Grade level. Students need to learn about politics and history by doing politics and history. I hope that the activities I have furnished in the US Congress for Kids will help teachers provide that kind of learning.


 Image of Congress from the Library of Congress

In the very beginning of the book, you discuss the beating of Representative Preston Brooks by Senator Charles Sumner over a slavery speech. Since that time have there been any other physical altercations between members of Congress?

Actually, soon after the 1856 incident you mentioned, on February 5, 1858, Congressman Laurence Keitt became engaged in a brawl on the House floor involving approximately 50 representatives. It ended only when a missed punch from one representative upended the hairpiece of another Congressman. When the latter accidentally replaced his wig on backwards, both sides erupted in spontaneous laughter, deflating the confrontation.

It is doubtful that the American people would tolerate their elected officials trading punches today. However, cussing out one another, from time to time, still occurs.

“It is doubtful that the American people would tolerate their elected officials trading punches today. However, cussing out one another, from time to time, still occurs.”

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 Image of Ronald Reis courtesy of the author

That story is hilarious! I would have loved to see that actually. Today, a majority of Americans see their Congress as dysfunctional, unwilling or incapable of “doing the nation’s” business. Have there been other times in US history where Americans felt the same way, and do you believe the Congress of today is indeed dysfunctional?

Unfortunately, America is becoming a divided nation. Conservatives in the Republican Party are becoming more conservative, moving to the right, and liberals in the Democratic Party are becoming more liberal, while moving father to the left. The same can be said of the Congress. Since Congress is a representative institution, it reflects the polarization going on in the country as a whole. There is little incentive to compromise on the issues, since both parties have retreated to their corners, so to speak.

A recent syndicated newspaper article written by Ronald Brownstein, entitled: “No Prosperity, no Peace,” makes it clear that it is all about economics. The median family income is lower today than it was in 2000. Americans are frustrated and angry; they feel exposed and vulnerable. According to Brownstein, ‘Economic stagnation means a continuation of gridlocked and zero-sum politics.’ Congress is us.

“Americans often say that divided government is what they want to keep the parties in check. Yet, under such circumstances, it is difficult for one party or the other to take responsibility, to be accountable.”

Can you give us an example of a President who has accomplished a great deal with a Congress that had a majority that was not his political party?

There wouldn’t be many, for sure. And, unfortunately, the future portends divided government. From 1896 to 1968, a 72-year period, the country provided one political party (Democrat or Republican) with unified control of the federal government—the White House, House, and Senate—in 58 of those years, 80 percent of the time. From 1968 to 2014 (a 46 year period) only 12 of those years (26 percent) saw unified control. Americans often say that divided government is what they want to keep the parties in check. Yet, under such circumstances, it is difficult for one party or the other to take responsibility, to be accountable.

“To impeach is to accuse, but it is not to convict. Hence the confusion, I believe.”

Why do you suppose the term, “impeached” is so widely misunderstood and exactly what does it mean?

My Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Eleventh Edition) defines impeach as “to bring an accusation against,” in other words, to accuse, or indict. But that same dictionary also goes on to say, “to remove from office, especially for misconduct.” Impeach does not do the latter. To impeach is to accuse, but it is not to convict. Hence the confusion, I believe.

For our purposes, only the US House of Representatives can impeach someone. If they do, then the Senate sits in judgment of that person, as in a court of law. If two-thirds of the Senate votes to convict, the person is removed from office. There is no appeal.

Aerial of the U.S. Capitol under restoration. The United States Capitol is the meeting place of the United States Congress, the legislature of the Federal government of the United States. Located in Washington, D.C., it sits atop Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall.

Image of Capitol Hill from Library of Congress

I love the fact that the activities in the book get kids involved in taking action in politics and get their voices heard. What would you say to a child (or adult) who thinks their vote will never count so there’s no reason to go to the polls?

For some time now we have heard, particularly for disenchanted voters and third party activists, that there is little, if any, differences between the two major political parties—the Democrats and the Republicans. I think the last few decades have shown view to be false. Today, Democrats and Republicans are far apart on the major issues. Which party wins an election counts. Furthermore, if we just look at how close some of our elections have been in the last few years, starting with the presidential election of 2000, we can see that everyone’s vote is critical.

I know all too well about that 2000 election mess firsthand, as I live in Broward County, FL. What advice do you have for others who wish to write a book about US history or politics for kids and keep it interesting and comprehensible?

Story! Story! Story! The book should tell the story of our history and political institutions. It is not always easy to do this, but I think, with lots of effort, we can get close.

“…a biography is not about a person’s life, but about a person’s story; a biography is not about what a person did, but who a person was.”

What writing project is next for you?

Henry_ford_1919My next book for the Chicago Review Press will be a biography of Henry Ford, to be published in the fall of 2015. In writing that book, I tried to remember that a biography is not about a person’s life, but about a person’s story; a biography is not about what a person did, but who a person was. I hope I have done that. In addition, the 21 activities for the Ford book will be most exciting, I believe, with all kinds of hands-on exercises for Middle Grade readers.

Portrait of Henry Ford (1919) from the Library of Congress

Ron, I feel a whole lot smarter since I’ve read US Congress for kids. I have so much respect for the important work you to – educating children in innovative and intriguing ways. I’m looking forward to reading your book about Henry Ford.

Readers, I highly recommend you get a copy of US Congress for Kids and while you’re at it, get Ron’s Christopher Columbus book too. Also, visit Ronald Reis’ website here.

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The US Congress for Kids: 225 Years of Lawmaking History

US Congress_lg

US Congress for Kids: Over 200 Years of Lawmaking, Deal-Breaking, and Compromising

•    Targeted Audience:  Upper Elementary, Middle School (Ages 10 and Up)
•    Genre: Non-Fiction US History
•    Author: Ronald Reis
•    Publisher: Chicago Review Press
•    Publication Date: November 1, 2014
•    Binding: Paperback
•    Dimensions: 12 X 8
•    Printing: Black & White
•    Length: 144 Pages
•    Retail: $16.95
•    ISBN: 978-1613749777

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Be sure to enter for a chance to win our HUGE Thanksgiving Giveaway 2014. Ends November 17, 2014!


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Image of slave ship Credit: The Library of Congress

A Fascinating Front Row Seat in the Legislative Branch of the US Government

One of the most engaging of all the titles in the outstanding Chicago Review Press For Kids Series, US Congress for Kids provides readers with an overview of the US Legislative process, from the very first meeting of Congress in 1789 to laws created in 2014. On what typically is a rather confusing and dry subject, author Ronald Reis breaks everything down so that it is both completely comprehensible and at the same time fascinating.  In fact, the explanation of how the US Congress is organized and what its functions are, is the best written summary on the subject I’ve ever read, bar none. I’m sure there are as many adults who could benefit from reading this (as I did) as there are children. Photographs and historic drawings add to the learning experience.

A Lesson in History and Politics Minus the Rote Memorization

Fascinating quips about historical events that took place in the early days of Congress are presented, including many that revolved around the issue of slavery such as the “Crime Against Kansas” speech and William Slade’s Violation of the Gag Order in 1837. In addition to the inner workings of congress, there’s information on: Impeachment; Amendments to the Constitution such as Direct Election of Senators and the Women’s Right to Vote; laws on Immigration and American Citizenship; Congressional investigations such as Senator Joseph McCarthy’s accusations about government officials being members of the communist party; Civil Rights and Jim Crow Laws; and Campaigning for office. Throughout the book are offset boxes featuring key figures in Congress from Aaron Burr to Elizabeth Warren and other important and intriguing individuals in US lawmaking history.



Image of Congress Credit: The Library of Congress

 21 Activities

You’ll love the activities in US Congress for Kids. They are original and interactive, actually encouraging readers to get involved in the political process. Among them are: finding their local US Representative and writing him or her a letter; writing their own one-minute speech; tracking a bill thorough congress; learning how to register to vote; and launching a petition action. There are some artistic activities too, like making a congressional medal of honor and a capitol dome from toothpicks and gumdrops.

What This Book Teaches

Readers get such a comprehensive and objective view of how the US Judicial System operates. They discover that despite all the political controversies that have arisen throughout history, our Congress works for our greater good. Learning about constitutional rights and how they are protected by law opens the door to understanding the importance of securing the freedoms upon which our great nation was based. There’s a tremendous amount of  important educational information in  US Congress for Kids, but the book is written in such a way that readers will not be overwhelmed by it. They will discover many new vocabulary words, and in the back of the book are an important Glossary of political terms and a list of Websites to Explore relating to the topic.

Aerial of the U.S. Capitol under restoration. The United States Capitol is the meeting place of the United States Congress, the legislature of the Federal government of the United States. Located in Washington, D.C., it sits atop Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall.

Image Credit: The Library of Congress

Why You Should Buy This Book

When I was in middle school, high school and even college, books and classes available to me on the US Government were so tedious and uninteresting, I was turned off by the subject completely. US Congress for Kids takes the bore out of history and politics and makes it a real page turner. It is apparent that a tremendous amount of work went into researching and writing this book, and that must be commended. Ronald Reis has a way of writing that is so engaging, the reader gets excited about the subject at hand. I read and reviewed Reis’ Christopher Columbus for Kids last year, and it too was a book I could not put down.

US Congress for Kids facilitates independent thinking and inspires readers to fight for all that is just. Understanding the basics of the way our government works from an early age empowers children to look forward to voting and taking action to do what they can to protect the freedoms set forth by the US Constitution. We need future politicians who will protect our rights!

About the Author

RReisRonald A. Reis is the author of numerous nonfiction books for kids and young adults, including Christopher Columbus and the Age of Exploration for Kids, with 21 Activities. His biography of Buffalo Bill Cody won the 2011 Spur Award for the best juvenile nonfiction biography about the west, from the Western Writers of America. He lives in Calabasas, California.

Further Learning

  1. Learn more about the three branches of government on Kids.Gov.
  2. Visit the Kid’s Wesbite for The Library of Congress.
  3. Watch live sessions of the House of Representatives online.
  4. Explore the National Museum of History’s Division of Political History.

Read my review of Christopher Columbus for Kids also by Ronald Reis and my interview with Ronald Reis. Check out other excellent titles in the Chicago Review Press for Kids Series.



The Father of American Architecture: Frank Lloyd Wright for Kids


FLW_coverFrank Lloyd Wright for Kids: His Life and Ideas

•    Targeted Audience: Upper Elementary, Middle School (Ages9 and Up)
•    Genre: Non-Fiction Biography
•    Author: Kathleen Thorne-Thomsen
•    Publisher: Chicago Review Press
•    Publication Date: July 1, 2014
•    Binding: Paperback
•    Dimensions: 9.5″ x  11″
•    Printing: Full Color
•    Length: 144 Pages
•    Retail: $16.95
•    ISBN: 978-1561457298

A Captivating Biography and a Lesson in Architecture

 Frank Lloyd Wright for Kids  is a delightfully sophisticated, enlightening and inspiring biography for children. Author Kathleen Thorne-Thomsen delves into the life of America’s most celebrated architect, from his birth in 1867 to his death in 1959. Wright’s life was not all glamor; in fact he often struggled to find work and sometimes did not get paid for the work he did. In addition, he created many of his own problems due to his infidelity, multiple marriages and other scandals. These situations are an important part of Wright’s life story, and are described by the author in age-appropriate language.

In addition to his personal life, surprisingly detailed information is included about his architectural designs, giving readers a fascinating lesson in architectural history and trends. Frank’s mother bought him a set of geometrically shaped blocks at a World’s Fair when he was nine years old, in the hopes that they would get him interested in architecture. What a success that purchase was, as Frank often spoke of those blocks he cherished long after he became well-known. And of course, he achieved tremendous success in his lifetime, and his greatest architectural designs are all explored in this wonderful book.


Image of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park, IL home studio and playroom in the Public Domain.

21 Unique Activities

473px-Frank_Lloyd_Wright_portraitChicago Review Press Kids titles all feature fun, educational activities for readers to enhance their learning experience on the subject at hand. The projects in  Frank Lloyd Wright for Kids are the most unique I’ve seen of all the books I’ve reviewed in the series. Some of the many highlights are Making Frank Lloyd Wright’s Favorite Breakfast, Reading Architectural Plans to solve a Maze, Comparing the Design of Houses, Designing a City, Design with Hexagons and Building a Model of Fallingwater with Graham Crackers.

Wright was a hard worker, but he also loved throwing large parties. so in the book there are plans to Make a Spring or a Winter Festival, complete with recipes. The Cinnamon Muffins recipe looked so good to me, I made a batch myself; these turned out to be perhaps the most delicious muffins I’ve ever tasted! Along with it I made Orange Spice id iced tea as suggested in the book.

Image pf Frank Lloyd Wright by Photographer Al Ravenna in the Public Domain


Delicious Cinnamon Muffins and Orange Spice Iced Tea.

What this Book Teaches

Frank Lloyd Wright for Kids is an excellent introduction to American architecture for kids. They learn the traits of distinctive architectural styles, different materials used to build and how Wright used geometric shapes and wove nature into all of his designs. The challenges Wright faced to make a living, not only in the beginning of his career, but also at different times throughout his life are essential to understanding his great success.


Image of Fallingwater in PA, designed by Frank Lloyed Wright in the Public Domain

Why You Should Buy This Book

 Frank Lloyd Wright for Kids is sure to inspire children to find their own true passions as Wright did. Learning how Wright was moved by design in nature from an early age is incredibly enlightening.  He was a forward thinking man, who took risks to design buildings in ultra modern ways never before seen. His creative genius and persistence to succeed as an architect inspire all who read the book. Learning about his shortcomings with his personal affairs shows readers even the greatest of men are only human – a valuable lesson for all to learn. I highly recommend this book. It would make a terrific addition to your Chicago Review Press for Kids home or school library.

About the Author

209426Kathleen Thorne-Thomsen studied at the Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology and used what she learned to develop educational materials for children. This award winning author specializes in writing and designing books and web sites for museums, historical sites, and educational organizations. Among the numerous books she has written are The Huntington for Kids,  Painting the Beautiful: Pasadena Museum of History and Greene & Greene for Kids. She has received grants for her work from the Graham Foundation, the Pasadena Community Foundation (with the Gamble House), and the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Department (with the Pasadena Museum of History).
Photo of Kathleen Thorne-Thomsen Credit: Manfred Laendle