Monday, September 13, 2010

Hooray for Owl at Home!

If pressed to choose my favorite early reader, the winner would have to be Owl at Home by the wonderful and oh-so-talented Arnold Lobel. Published in 1975, the book came out way after I first learned to read. Yet there is something perennially fresh about Owl's child-like outlook on life that it never fails to bring a smile to my lips.

First, hats off to Mr. Lobel for the feat of creating so successful a book with one lone (but not lonely) character! Unlike Frog and Toad, Owl has no friend to bounce ideas off or to come into conflict. Instead, Lobel uses inanimate objects as characters--the wind in "The Guest," Owl's feet in "Strange Bumps," and the moon in "Owl and the Moon."

"Strange Bumps" trumps all the stories, in my humble opinion. Owl in bed for the night notices two strange bumps at the end of the bed. Unaware that they are his feet, Owl becomes increasingly upset as the bumps move about, yet disappear when he throws off the covers. Eventually he takes himself off to sleep downstairs in his chair. This is a pretty accurate portrayal of the irrational yet very real fears that plague us at nighttime.

"Owl and the Moon" is another favorite. Perhaps because an early memory I have is riding in the back seat of my parents' car at night after a day spent at the beach. Pleasantly tired, eyes drooping, I'd watch the moon out the back window as it followed us home. I thought of the moon as an especially caring friend, the same as Owl.

Early readers are often peopled with characters who make silly errors in judgment. Think Amelia Bedelia. I'm sure one of the reasons for this is that beginning readers make so many mistakes as they struggle to master the words on the page. It must give them a feeling of superiority to know that they would never be so silly as to mistake their feet for strange bumps or to dash up and down the stairs in order to be in two places at once, as Owl does in "Upstairs and Downstairs." Lobel, however, never pokes fun at Owl. He respects him as a kind and well-meaning, if not especially bright, owl. And so do I.


  1. Owl at Home is one my favorites! The stories are charming and intelligent, yet simply written, and the illustrations are engaging. Owl is a wonderful character. I enjoyed reading it as an adult.

  2. My 4-year-old just got this as a gift from a friend who happens to be a preschool teacher. She adores it. Her favorite story is Strange Bumps; mine is Tear-water Tea.