From The Blog

Kiawah Author Lisa Donovan Shares Her Love of Birds With the Next Generation

by Sue Schaffer

Lisa Donovan earned a Master’s degree in Professional Writing from Carnegie Mellon University, but did not plan to become a book author. Her interest in birds was in watching them from her window, rather than a scientific perspective. Her professional career in communications focused on adults, not children. Yet in her “empty nest” phase of life, Lisa has authored two books on birds for young children. Meet Lisa and check out her books on May 12 at Feather Fest, part of the Sea Islands Shorebird Festival on Kiawah. 

Although she wasn’t planning a future as an author, Lisa “wanted the M.A. in writing because I knew that whatever I did professionally, I would need to be a good writer. I thought the Master’s from Carnegie Mellon would open doors.” Her instincts were sound. Her career in communications included writing, editing and speaking in media relations, public relations and marketing. 

Lisa held what she called “my dream job” as the media relations coordinator for several Pittsburgh museums before she and her husband moved first to Ohio for his work, and then to the New York City suburbs where she raised her two daughters. She did not return to a professional career but led an active volunteer life. “Everything I was once paid for, I did for free.” 

Her volunteer activities included substantial writing, and after her children had left for college, Lisa began writing “for me,” she said. Her muse was a bird bath and group of suet holders outside her kitchen window. “It was like watching a sitcom,” she remarked. Her first writing attempt, however, was a Thanksgiving story. 

Her first book, Birds in My Backyard, was a publisher’s suggestion. Thanksgiving story in hand, Lisa had approached a publisher who demurred but asked if she had anything else. She presented some verses about birds, and the publisher suggested she make them into a book. Lisa studied the behavior of the birds outside her window and composed verses she might have read to her daughters at bedtime. Kiawah inspired the just-published Birds at the Beach and Beyond. After 20 years of vacations on Kiawah, Lisa became a homeowner about 12 years ago and now plans to spend eight or nine months a year on the island.

Every illustration in Lisa’s books is a collage. She asked a college friend who is an accomplished artist to illustrate. “The pictures are not scientific renderings, but they are as accurate as possible in this art form,” she said. She constantly consulted bird experts to ensure accuracy in the text as well. For example, robins are known for a white circle around their eyes, and her bird expert noted that in the draft, the white circle was missing. 

The books are a collection of verses that start at dawn and end at dusk and teach children about bird behaviors. “I’m told this type of book is rare right now,” Lisa said. “You can read it all in five minutes or skip some verses for a shorter read. They are perfect for up to about age 7.” Lisa also noted that a friend who is a therapist for autistic children told her that her patients love the books.

In addition to her writing, Lisa continues the heavy volunteer schedule of her child-raising years. She grew up near Pittsburgh and that is her home away from Kiawah. She is vice-chair of the board of the PBS television and radio stations there, serves on the board of her Pittsburgh condo association, and edits articles for her high school alma mater. She recently joined FlockWatch—a new initiative on the Kiawah beaches to protect the Red Knots. (Note: If you’re also interested in joining FlockWatch, contact Bette Popillo for more information.)

Lisa’s books (Birds in My Backyard and Birds at the Beach and Beyond) are available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble online, and Gold Crest Distributing. Locally, the books may be found in Indigo Books, Kiawah Island Golf Resort locations, and The Tree House (on Main Road). You can find more information at her website,

Wednesday, Aug. 2, find Lisa and her illustrator Dee Paras at the Kiawah Conservancy’s Junior Explorers event.