Little Owl Lost, or, The Joy of Being Correct by Jane Whittingham
As a children’s librarian I’m always on the lookout for great picture books to add to my story time collection. A great story time book pulls children into its tale, engaging them and holding them rapt from start to finish. It is often interactive in some way, providing opportunities for audience participation and engagement. A great story time book can work on multiple levels and be adapted for use with different age groups, and it can withstand the tests of time and repeat usage without losing its spark and originality.
Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton is, I would suggest, a great story time book. Structurally it checks off many of the boxes we early literacy specialists look for in a book – the text is simple and repetitive, while the plot is predictable and pattern-based, ideal for supporting emergent literacy in young children. Haughton employs the writing technique sometimes referred to as the “rule of threes” to great effect here, using enough repetition to reinforce vocabulary and build dramatic tension without exhausting the attention spans of very young readers.
“ ‘Yes! Yes! I know! I know!’ said Squirrel. ‘Follow me…’ ”
Haughton’s distinctive illustrations are striking, both in their simplicity and in the artist’s bold and unusual colour palette. This is a rich, saturated world of green bears, pink foxes, and red and orange cut-out trees standing proudly on a sea of solid blue grass.
Beyond this, of course, Little Owl Lost is a lot of fun, for both reader and listeners. The characters are endearing, the story is gently ridiculous, and there are plenty of opportunities for expressive reading if, like me, you enjoy hamming it up a little during story times. A little owl falls asleep in his treetop nest and topples to the forest floor, separated from his mother and very much lost. An enthusiastic if not entirely reliable squirrel comes to the little owl’s aid, but his attempts to reunite mother and baby are less than successful until another, wiser animal finally joins the search.
One of the most successful aspects of Little Owl Lost is the characterization of the enthusiastic, bumbling squirrel. The squirrel character works so well largely because of the fact that children often delight in being able to correct the mistakes of others, particularly grown-ups. Childhood can be a frustratingly powerless period in an individual’s life. Knowledge is traditionally transferred in a single direction, funneled down to a child from the adults around them. Children are often corrected, guided, steered and controlled, and even a child with the most well-meaning and informed guardians and educators often knows more rules than freedom. To be presented with an opportunity to correct a character so obviously, ridiculously in the wrong can be a refreshing, empowering experience for a child, and one that they can experience several times through the book.
The squirrel also has an endearingly can-do attitude, refusing to let his mistakes get him down or undermine his confidence in himself and his abilities. His success rate might leave something to be desired, but the squirrel’s enduring optimism and that enthusiasm that just can’t be dampened are an inspiration.
A delight to read aloud and share with kids of all ages, this simple, hilarious picture book is a brilliant addition to any story time collection.
Jane Whittingham is an auxiliary children’s librarian with the Vancouver Public Library in Vancouver, Canada. You can read more of her bookish thoughts on her blog at http://www.raincitylibrarian.wordpress.com