Review of Elf Dog & Owl Head

Elf Dog & Owl Head Elf Dog & Owl Head
by M. T. Anderson; illus. by Junyi Wu
Intermediate    Candlewick    240 pp.
4/23    9781536222814    $18.99

Clay and his family are suffering the accumulated ­tensions of a “global sickness” shutdown. Online school, isolation from friends, financial worries, too much togetherness—Clay needs escape, and he gets it via a charming elf-hound who has wandered up from the fairy Kingdom Under the Mountain. The dog also gives Clay access to a new friend, Amos, an owl-headed boy who inhabits a different parallel world that resembles a Puritan village. Once these worlds start to leak into one another, chaos is loosed upon Clay and his family. The tone is largely cartoonish, as set pieces of hilarious slapstick involve, for example, an out-of-control wool sweater that reverse-evolves into its original sheep. It’s a veritable plum pudding of energetic action and witty delights, but a ­foundation of traditional folklore elements—standing stones, half-buried sleeping giants, fairy mischief, portals to the underworld, the Wild Hunt, and predatory wyrms—creates an underlying hint of genuine menace. One of the guests at the big Midsummer’s Eve supernatural shindig is Death (“When he calls, we must go. But knowing that the night may be cut short is what makes it so sweet”). Balancing this chill is the devoted relationship between Clay and his dog companion, a theme that stands sturdily in the middle of the mayhem. Black-and-white full-page pencil illustrations contribute to both coziness and eeriness.

From the March/April 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sarah Ellis
Sarah Ellis is a Vancouver-based writer and critic, recently retired from the faculty of The Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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