Owl Moon
written by Jane Yolen
illustrated by John Schoenherr


Jane Yolen's Owl Moon
Caldecott winning illustrations by John Schoenherr

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 4-8


A Daddy-Daughter Book

Milestones. Children live for them.

That tiny little being - packed so tightly into her winter coat, snow boots, mittens, scarf and wool hat that in no picture can you see any more than her eyes - is having the time of her life.

cropped daddy-daughter image from Owl Moon

Her older brothers have been owling with Dad. They're older. They're boys. But now she gets to go.

Her reverence for the experience is tangible. Owl Moon is told in the girl's own voice, a strikingly mature inner dialogue documenting every aspect of this daddy-daughter outing as it happens.

The trees like "giant statues." That owl moon so bright "the sky seemed to shine." The train whistle "long and low, like a sad song."

She wants to do this right. Her brothers have conveyed to her the importance of quiet. Sometimes she has to run to keep up with her dad. The experience is very solitary, despite his company, because there's no talking and no contact. Just the struggle to keep up and the thoughts inside.

And then there's that knowledge that sometimes an owling expedition comes to nothing. You hear nothing. You see nothing.

As a reader, your heart goes out to her. You imagine her fear that a failed outing will somehow reflect on her. On her age. On her gender.

They reach a clearing. Dad does his call.

Whoo-whoo-who-who-who-whooooooo.

The call of the Great Horned Owl. It's returned!

Dad and the owl trade calls. Suddenly a shadow moves on the ground. They look up. There he is!

Your heart lifts.

John Schoenherr's illlustrations (he won a Caldecott for his efforts) complement Yolen's text perfectly. The cover features Dad reaching out to help his daughter tramp through the snow, but the interior pages accentuate their separateness during the journey. This is a little girl alone with her thoughts as she follows this huge being, her father, in ritual silence.

Schoenherr captures the tension, and then the release as the owl encounter ends triumphantly.

"Time to go home," Pa said to me. I knew then I could talk, I could even laugh out loud."

But she doesn't. She returns home warm and silent, now in her father's arms.

It's incredibly touching. I don't know that I've ever come across a better father daughter book.

Yolen and Schoenherr team up in this classic to capture perfectly a momentous little expedition and everything it means to a young child. This is a great book for any kid, but if you have a youngest daughter, Owl Moon is nothing less than essential.

Mom? Make sure you let Dad read this book to your daughter. And Dad? Go take your daughter on a similarly meaningful outing.

More great Father's Day books reviewed on this site.

More children's book award winners.

Read more of Steve's reviews.

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