Review of Whoo-Ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story

Whoo-Ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story
by Maria Gianferrari; illus. by Jonathan Voss
Primary    Putnam    32 pp.    g
3/20    978-0-399-54842-0    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-399-54843-7    $9.99

Readers follow a pair of great horned owls and their owlets from winter into the next autumn in this life-cycle narrative told in haiku. The owls’ daily life is a struggle for survival, made immediate through Gianferrari’s often-suspenseful haiku. Focusing on how the owl parents feed and protect their young, each poem describes a single moment; these are often grouped on a page or spread to portray a complete scene or moment of action. Invoking simple imagery, each haiku delivers only the necessary information, allowing Voss’s lush ink and watercolor illustrations to fill in the gaps. The realistic paintings match the tone and mood of the poetry during both quiet and urgent moments. Voss’s use of scale, from intense close-ups, such as a harrowing encounter with a red fox (“Red fox launches — pounce! / Up! Down! Up! Down! Up! Down! Up! / Mama screams and dives”), to more distant renderings of the entire family in its treetop habitat provides a visual variety that propels the narrative forward. One magnificent double-page spread features the two young owls making their first attempts at flying amidst the sun-drenched branches of a pine tree: “Trying out her wings / Beating, leaping, teetering / Owlet bobs and springs.” Two pages of information about great horned owls and a list of resources round out this splendid package.

From the May/June 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Eric Carpenter
Eric Carpenter
Eric Carpenter is the school librarian at Fred A. Toomer Elementary School in Atlanta, Georgia.

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