The Barn Owl; The Otter
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This issue’s cover is from J K Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third book in what is already a classic new series. The first two titles were Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for their help. Cover image based on original artwork by Cliff Wright
Here are the first two information picture books in a new series about animal life histories. The format for this kind of narrative information book is well established: the ‘story’ is followed by pages at the end presenting a fact file, glossary, index and details of sources of further information. These books are good examples of the genre, rivalling Walker Books’ ‘Read and Wonder’ series in the quality of information and illustration. The text is clear, interesting and sometimes poetic – the male and female owl dance their mating rituals ‘like ghostly acrobats’. But children learn about things as they really are. In The Otter we get a sense of the creature devouring an eel, holding the prey between her forepaws as she chews because it is so slippery. There is nothing cosy either about the description of the owl nest in The Barn Owl – ‘really just a layer of dry old owl pellets’ – with the remains of rodents ‘rotting in the straw nearby’. Bert Kitchen’s pictures show the carefully observed creatures in their distinctive environments and would give rise to a lot of reflection and discussion. The books are beautifully produced on quality paper and would be a pleasure to own. Children aged about four to six would enjoy hearing the books read out loud by teacher or parent. But there is enough substance to encourage seven to eight year olds to read them by themselves and a genuine interest might be awakened leading to further reading and research.