Way Back Wednesday Essential Classic: The Magic of an Owl
By Jane Yolen; illustrated by John Schoenherr
This past Monday I went looking for a great snowy white owl that locals speak of, that can be found wintering in Orient State Park, New York. Having never been, my husband and I ventured forth on a cold and gray January morning to go “owling” as the lingo goes. “It’ll be fun”, I enthused. He gave me one of those “I’m doubtful, but I’m in” looks and off we went.
The excitement of an adventure was in the air as we met quite a few other seekers of the great white snowy owl with its supposed wingspan of 5 feet! Some fellow journeyers were eager to share where the owl had last been spotted and others, not so forthcoming. Reminded me of a fisherman we once met who, when asked where he found all his great catches of striped bass, put forth a terse reply of, “In the water.” Hmm. I got the message right away that some people want to do their owling and fishing without hordes of hangers on about. Fine! Be that way, as the kids say.
But my hunt for a glimpse of this elusive and elegant bird put me in mind of the Caldecott classic, Owl Moon by Jane Yolen that won the Award in 1988. If you haven’t shared it with your young reader, and even if you have, it’s worth a revisit as it is something special. It’s the story of the quest for an owl by a father and child as they seek to see a sight, prompted by a sound, on a snowy and moonlit night. It’s a perfect winter read!
It has been more than 25 years since Owl Moon first appeared and when the illustrator, John Schoenherr was asked what gave the book its classic longevity, he mentioned some of these elements he found in the book.
It’s a real life adventure that can be shared with a child. In fact, both author and illustrator shared adventures like this with their children.
The voice that tells the story is that of the child. Every young reader can project their own feelings in such a time and place.
The classical element of the journey is there with the possibility of mystery and the undiscovered is present.
The father is a partner on the adventure, though it proceeds at a unhurried pace for the child, he is there to share the “dos” and “don’ts” of “owling,” taken from experience.
My favorite picture is the child, weary, but happy from the shared journey, being carried in the safety and warmth of father’s arms, back to the lights that signal the security of home. In the delightful closing words of Jane Yolen’s book:
When you go owling
you don’t need word
or anything but hope.
That’s what Pa says.
The kind of hope
on silent wings
under a shining
As for me, I will need that hope in my quest for a sighting of the great snowy white owl. I was beaten, but unbowed that January day and no one carried me home! But that’s the great part about adventures! There’s always an opportunity for one each day!
Great snowy white owl, I will return again and again for a magic glimpse of you! And, in the meantime, Owl Moon is a glimpse of mystery and magic all its own for your young reader and me!
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