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A Beautiful Re-Working of a Classic Theme


A Christmas Tale with a Masterly Twist


A Perfect Novelty Book

Owl Babies
A Beautiful Re-Working of a Classic Theme

Owl Babies Cover

 

This simple tale of a Mum and her babies is one of the oldest stories on the planet but, as the song goes; ‘it ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it’ and Waddell and Benson ‘do it’ to perfection. Though the story is simple and the words are few there is a lot going on here if you read between the lines. For example, I love the way that the different responses to the missing Mum reflect the age group characteristics of each owl. The oldest one reassures the younger ones, the middle one tries to be brave and trust the encouragement of his big sister while the younger one is unashamedly just plain scared. All this conveyed in a few carefully chosen words of dialogue:

 

          ‘She’ll bring us mice and all things nice,’ said Sarah
          ‘I suppose so,’ said Percy. 
          ‘I want my mummy,’ said Bill.

 

The longer Mummy Owl is away the more the tension, gently but steadily, develops. After looking for her from separate perches Sarah, the older owl, very sensibly suggests that they sit together for comfort. The way that, in the absence of Mum, she takes on the protective role of her siblings is so sweet and true to life. But as time goes on and Mummy is still not back even Sarah starts to worry and this unease feeds down to Percy.

 

          ‘Suppose she got lost,’ said Sarah
          ‘Or a fox got her,’ said Percy.
          'I want my Mummy,’ said Bill.

 

As the semblance of bravery and nonchalance evaporates, the tension rises to an almost unbearable degree so that when, with the three simple words ‘AND SHE CAME’, Mummy Owl finally returns, the relief is enormous. In a clever bit of dramatic tension we (the reader) see Mummy return before the baby owls see her. This allows the reader to enjoy watching the babies see her return. (Look at the eye contact between Mummy and the owl at the front). After all the tension comes the final resolution in the inference that when Mummy owl goes away, she will always return.

 

       ‘What’s all the Fuss?’ their mother asked.
        ‘You knew I’d come back.’

 

Finally, in the last exchanges between the babies there is a subtle, comic twist. Sarah didn’t always know Mum would come back but as the oldest owl she has the bravado to pretend to her siblings, her mother (and probably herself) that she did. It’s as if she wants to be grown up but isn’t quite there yet.

 

       'I knew it’ said Sarah.
       'And I knew it’ said Percy.
      I love my Mummy!’ said Bill.

 

Percy, the second eldest, copies Sarah the oldest while as before, Bill is too young to pretend and just shares his feelings of love for Mummy.

 

Owl Babies in Tree

 

But along with this wonderfully told, human, true to life story you also get Patrick Benson’s superb illustrations. Here is a picture book where truly you can say the pictures are as important as the words. Bensons uses his beautiful cross hatching style, which picks up on a look that old wood cuts have, and its fits the subject perfectly. The apprehension, worry, fear on the faces of the owls are all suggested by the eyebrows. My favourite picture is the long shot of the three baby owls in the tree - tiny dots in the vastness of the menacing wood full of shadows.

 

As ever, Walker Books have done a tremendous job of the design – I particularly like the typography and how the colour of it subtly changes. This book just couldn’t be improved.

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