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Start with a Book

Ricky Rocket

Books and activities for summer reading and learning from Reading Rockets

Start With a Book: Books and activities for summer reading and summer learning

The Reading Connection

I grew up in a home where books were everywhere. We were regulars at the library. Family trips always included finding the local used bookstore. No doubt having access to so many things to read helped make me a reader. But it was in 6th grade that I was truly hooked — by the girl who sat in front of me in reading class. She turned around, offered up the book she’d just finished and told me with enthusiastic detail how great it was. Books had always been my friends; now I saw they could help me make friends. My eyes were opened to all the ways reading could help me connect.

Birding for Everyone book showing multicultural group of young kids birding with ornithologist and author John C. Robinson

Summertime is a great opportunity for kids to discover an interest and summer reading can help illuminate new pathways that link kids to lifelong learning. We’re so delighted to have ornithologist, best-selling author, speaker, and environmental consultant John C. Robinson here to share what sparked two of his great passions — books and birds.

John has published six books about nature and birds, worked in collaboration with Toyota and the National Audubon Society, and led professional birding and natural history tours to exotic and picturesque locations in Tennessee, Southeast Arizona, the upper Texas Coast, and South Africa.

Since 1999, John has been an advocate for minorities in birdwatching and nature and has conducted research on how to connect youth and young adults to nature through the magic of bird watching.

He travels across the county, birding and speaking about his most recent book, Birding for Everyone: Encouraging People of Color to Become Birdwatchers.

Rachael Walker



June 23, 2021

Birds, Books, Math, and 90 Seconds by John C. Robinson

Ornithologist and wildlife biologist John C. Robinson outside wearing sport vest and with spotting scope and binoculars

I love books (especially books about birds); but I also love math. I thought it would be fun to get into how a small number can have a big effect on reading.

Consider this: many people born today have a life expectancy of 80 years. So, here’s my math question for you: how many 90-second intervals occur over a period of 80 years? Not counting the extra day during leap years, if your answer was something like 28,032,000 then congratulations are in order!

Recently, I’ve had a chance to think about some of the things I’ve accomplished in my own life. Some of those highlights include a 25-year career as an ornithologist with the federal government; writing and publishing several books about birds, nature, and the outdoors; and leading two birding safaris to South Africa.

None of those achievements, however, would exist had it not been for the first book that I read.

The opportunity that led me to reading that book took no longer than 90 seconds. Here’s how it happened.

Black and white illustration of dog on old edition of White Fang

For me, it started in the 6th grade, when my library teacher noticed I was not reading any of the books at school. She asked me what I was interested in. After telling her about the butterflies, spiders, and crayfish I studied in my back yard, she gave me a book to read: Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. That book caught and held my interest like a magnet.

Several days later, I went running back to her, excitedly asking if there were other books like the one I had just read. She smiled and gave me another Jack London book to read: White Fang.

Even though the total time of those two conversations with her lasted no more than 90 seconds, that interaction forever changed my life. For instance, it was at this time that I created my first real goal: When I grew up, I wanted to be a biologist, study wolves, and live in Alaska. But more importantly, I gained a desire to learn; and that desire manifested in an insatiable thirst for more books to read!

In my teens, I got a job each summer and used some of that income to purchase even more books. While standing in a bookstore just before starting my senior year in high school, I remember looking at the collection of books and asking why my book couldn’t be on that bookshelf. And in that instant, a new goal was born: One day I would publish a full-length title and it would be available on the shelf of a bookstore.

After graduating from college and starting my career, I continued working on that book and eventually submitted it for publication. Not too long thereafter, one weekend I found myself browsing the shelves of a local bookstore and ... there it was: my book was displayed prominently on the bookshelf, just as I had envisioned it years earlier!

So, let’s finish the math. If I live to be 80 years of age, and if we know the one event that shifted my entire life only took 90 seconds, then we can conclude that the time my sixth-grade teacher spent with me only represented 128 millionth of my total life time. And yet, in such a short amount of time she had the most significant impact on the trajectory of my life.

I tell this story to not only stress the importance of reading books, but to also remind parents, teachers, and community leaders of the opportunity we have to help children in our care discover the power of books. And if you are a young boy or girl reading this article, remember it’s never too early to begin creating goals for your life — no matter how big or far away that goal may appear to be to you right now.

Ornithologist and wildlife biologist John C. Robinson outside leading a multicultural, multiage birding group

Is one of your goals to get started in birdwatching? Here’s where you can find a local Audubon chapter that can help you learn more about birds and the places where they can be found in your local area.

If you’ve been birding for some time now, the American Birding Association can help you take your knowledge, skills, and enjoyment of birding to the next level.

And if you are looking for some books to read or recommend to kids interested in bugs, birds, and animals, Start with a Book has suggestions for ages 3-12.

More about John C. Robinson

Bird Buddies!

If you're interested in learning more about birds and birding with kids, try Bird Buddies, our free STEAM toolkit for families and summer youth programs.

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