Sharing a Robin’s Life

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The title of this book is exactly right. Most of us taking in an abandoned baby bird might put it in a shoebox and figure on a night of eyedropper feedings before taking it to the nearest animal shelter. Linda Johns radically altered her home and lifestyle for years, in effect choosing to learn to live like a robin.

If this sounds extreme, it is. The house becomes an aviary, including a large dirt and mud garden, and Johns admits that visits to her human friends became primarily a matter of scouring their property for insects or searching for viable eggs when County decided to nest. County sleeps snuggled beside Johns’s head and they play courtship games. Catching a particularly succulent horsefly, the bird offers it with glee to Johns, who admits that the moment was difficult “for a human and a vegetarian.”

Johns’s intensity, depending on your outlook, is either bizarre or intriguing. Cynics may not be nearly as fascinated as Johns is by every tiny detail of robin life. But it is just such an eccentric, open attitude that makes unusual discoveries possible. The bond she develops with the birds extends all the way to the mystical: When she is wheeled into a hospital operating room for surgery, the birds back at home simultaneously fall into silence until the procedure is over.

Animal lovers will find a lot to enjoy about this heartfelt book, and students of animal behavior can learn many new details about robins, though this is in no way a scientific work. Children will love the simple and gentle storytelling, the family album-style photos of birds like “Blimp” and “Little Eyebrows,” and the real-life adventure of birth and death, difficult triumphs and silly shenanigans.