This afternoon while browsing in the bookstore, we came across a true gem which we felt compelled to add to our reading list for today. “Owl Moon” by Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr tells the story of a little girl who ventures out with her father to go owling on a clear and cold winter evening. It is our narrator’s first opportunity to go owling with her Pa, likely because it is a pursuit which requires patience and absolute silence – you must not speak a word as you walk through the woods, except for the occasional owl call (“Whoo -whoo-who-who-who-whooooooo”), and you must be prepared for occasional disappointment (“My brothers all said, sometimes there’s an owl and sometimes there isn’t”).
Eventually, the narrator’s forbearance and perseverance in the face of the bitter cold evening pay off. She and her father are rewarded with a sighting and even a momentary connection with nature as an owl alights on a high branch; they stare at each other for several minutes before the mysterious bird again takes flight. The little girl heads home full of silent joy (“I knew then I could talk, I could even laugh out loud. But I was a shadow as we walked home”).
“Owl Moon” is a beautiful book, both in terms of the prose and in terms of the rich, watercolor illustrations – which won the book a Caldecott Medal in 1988. Both together serve to instill a sense of peace and awe at the beauty and stillness of a snow-covered winter forest. I think, given the right setting (we were reading it in a noisy restaurant), it can also encourage everyone to lean in closer and to remain especially quiet and attentive in order not to disturb the narrator’s quest. It reminded us of one of our favorite Christmas books, “The Night Tree”, or of being far out in the country and staring up in wonderment at a night sky awash in stars. We enjoyed pointing out some of the woodland animals hidden in the pictures, like a fox wandering along in the snow close by our narrator, or a raccoon hiding in a tree – and found that the owl calls elicited several giggles from our youngest.
While we enjoy being able to “shop” for books to borrow from the library, we are very pleased to have acquired “Owl Moon” for our permanent collection at home; I have no doubt we will be reading it again and again.