Hoot Hoot

July 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

As a city girl who spent her summers in the country, I was easily awed by how pitch black the night could get in the absence of city lights. My kids are similarly fascinated and spooked by the Darkest of Nights, like the ones they recently experienced while vacationing at my grandmother’s lake house in Ontario. Especially on cloudy nights, with the lake on one side and the woods on the other, everything becomes enveloped in pure blackness—and yet the darkness is alive with a chorus of strange and unusual sounds. I love reading books that infuse nighttime with a dose of friendliness—with delight, if you will—and encourage kids to see the darkness outside their windows as something accessible. I also happen to think that owls in picture books are ridiculously cute (including how my 22-month-old daughter says “hoot hoot” with a perfectly rounded mouth); and, as luck would have it, some of the best books about nighttime happen to star precocious and energetic young owls. In Little Owl’s Night (Ages 18 mos-4), Divya Srinivasan takes us on an electrifying ride through the night forest, as seen through the (very large) eyes of a toddler-aged owl. In an illustrative style all of her own, with vivid two-dimensional graphics set sparsely against a jet-black background, Srinivasan brings the nighttime forest to life: the turtle hiding in his shell “as fireflies danced all around”; the beavers gnawing at the trees; the raccoon who breaks into a stash of nuts beside a sleeping squirrel. Like a child who flits from one parent to the other looking for attention, Little Owl is anxious to share his love of the night with every animal he meets. And his enthusiasm is contagious, especially as he tries to rouse the snoring bear in his cave to show him the moon (“He wondered if the bear had ever seen stars!”). Here’s a bedtime story that I can read to both my kids at the same time: my animal-loving daughter rehearses her expanding vocabulary by pointing out “possums” and “bats,” while her older brother spots the things that aren’t overtly mentioned in the text, like the bunny sleeping underground with a half-eaten carrot or the family of snails sneaking by a hungry skunk. Even an owl-toddler will run out of steam eventually; as much as he wants to follow the pretty moths towards the moon, the owl knows he must return to Mama before the sun comes up. And this is where the book’s simple text takes a poetic turn: “’Mama,’ Little Owl whispered, ‘tell me again how night ends.’” And my favorite part of her response: “’The moon and stars fade to ghosts,” Mama said. ‘Spiderwebs turn to silver threads. Dewdrops sparkle on leaves and grass like tiny stars come down.’” What a wonderful insinuation that night leaves its footprints on the dawning of the day, a handful of clues for our little ones to discover about what happened while they were sleeping!

Other Favorite Bedtime Stories Starring Owls:
A Book of Sleep, by Il Sung Na (Ages 1-3)
Owl Babies, by Martin Waddell & Patrick Benson (Ages 18 mos-3)
Sam and the Firefly, by P.D. Eastman (Ages 2-4)
Little Hoot, by Amy Krause Rosenthal (Ages 3-6)

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