From Johnston (An Old Shell), poetic phrases that follow a ghostly barn owl through days and nights, suns and moons.
Barn owls have been nesting and roosting, hunting and hatching in the barn and its surroundings for as long as the barn has housed spiders, as long as the wheat fields have housed mice, “a hundred years at least.” The repetition of alliterative words and the hushed hues of the watercolors evoke the soundless, timeless realm of the night owl through a series of spectral scenes. Short, staccato strings of verbs describe the age-old actions and cycles of barn owls, who forever “grow up/and sleep/and wake/and blink/and hunt for mice.” Honey-colored, diffused light glows in contrast to the night scenes of barn owls blinking awake. A glimpse into the hidden campestral world of the elusive barn owl.
Soft, striking, double-page spreads focus on a family of barn owls that lives in a century-old California barn, which is made of redwood and surrounded by oak trees and fields of wheat. A few words of simple, poetic text accompany each picture, stressing the ebb and flow of life in and around the barn. Some of the pictures, such as the impressionistic painting of an owl floating above a wheat field, are cast in a golden glow. In others, the owls loom large as they care for their young in the cramped space of the barn’s rafters, or evoke the silent flight of an owl hunting at night. The pictures match the text’s simplicity and understated tone making this a quietly eloquent nature book.
Johnston has created a tribute to the common barn owl. Her creatures doze “in the scent of wheat” and leave “the barn through a bale of light.” Golden wheat tones suffuse Ray’s watercolor-pencil and paint art. Author and illustrator run lyrical, but they don’t lose sight of the bird’s daily bread–the mouse. The center spread wordlessly depicts an owl aloft, a mouse dangling lifelessly from its beak, wings cutting through a dark night lit only with the merest sliver of moon. Elsewhere, as grown owls bring the newest offering to their loft-bound babies, sharp eyes will pick out the skeletal remains of previous meals. None of this is gory, just matter-of-fact: “Owls have hunted in this place, mice have hidden in this wheat one hundred years at least.” The poetry and paintings will make children wat to learn more about these mysterious creatures. No humans intrude on this venture into barn owl life and the species is different, but the book is a natural lead in to Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon.
—School Library Journal