Written by Jane Yolen, Illustrated by John Schoenherr
Philomel Books, 1987
Awards: Caldecott Medal (1988)
It was late one winter night, long past my bedtime, when Pa and I went owling.
The plot in a nutshell: A girl and her father go out into the woods late at night in search of a great horned owl. They find the owl and then go home.
Seriously, could a plot get any simpler than that? Can that even be called a plot? Well, regardless of semantics, the pages that follow that first sentence are absolutely wonderful and I was grateful for the opportunity to join these two on their journey. We know almost nothing about these two characters (we never even learn the narrator’s name), but we have all the information we need to thoroughly enjoy their story.
John Schoenherr’s artwork in this book is beautiful and the colors are perfectly chosen to convey the sense of a cold winter night in New England. But the most beautiful imagery comes from Ms. Yolen’s words, which are poetic and lovely.
The moon was high above us. It seemed to fit exactly over the center of the clearing and the snow below it was whiter than the milk in a cereal bowl.
Can’t you get a perfect visual from that description? And the way it’s worded tells us something about the narrator, as well.
Ms. Yolen’s husband apparently took all of their children owling and this story is representative of all of those birdwatching forays. You sense her daughter’s excitement at being invited to do something only her brothers have done and as she mentally goes over the rules, you can tell that she has been preparing for this for a while.
This book made me want to live in New England and to go owling myself. I had never even heard of the concept of owling (probably the result of being a lifelong city girl), but it sounds like something I could be good at. I can be silent and brave. (Sometimes.)
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that a well-tended sense of wonder helps even the simplest of adventures live up to the hype.