The first thing you notice when you pick up the book is the wonderful cover art. Patrick Benson somehow manages to get so much character into each of three owlets perched on a branch. On the first page, we meet those baby owls: Sarah, Percy and Bill, and their Mother. But on the second page, we discover a problem - they wake up and find their Mother gone.
"Where's Mummy?" asked Sarah.
"Oh my goodness!" said Percy.
"I want my mummy!" said Bill.
Of all the picture book themes in the world, somehow the one about missing mothers seems to most resonate with both kids and adults. P.D.Eastman's Are You My Mother, also wonderful, immediately springs to mind. I guess it's because everyone can remember that feeling of stunned terror when they first realize they've misplaced their mum. Waddell demonstrates his complete understanding of those feelings by what he shows the owlets saying and doing. Especially little Bill whose repeated "I want my mummy!" will make kids giggle, but nod their heads wisely, remembering.
Working together, Waddell and Benson engage us in this delightful story. Words and pictures ratchet up the tension, building to the climax of Mother's homecoming. I'll bet every mum who reads this one aloud can hear herself in Mother Owl's announcement: "WHAT'S ALL THE FUSS?... You knew I'd come back." And of course they did, and so do we.
Owl Babies is definitely the sort of picture book kids will ask for many times. It's nice to feel the vicarious panic of not knowing exactly where your mother is. It's even nicer to share the baby owl's delight in her return. If you're looking for a picture book to convert into Reader's Theatre for your kids, this has the perfect combination of dialogue, repetition, narration and static movement you need. If you're not sure about what Reader's Theatre is, how it contributes to children's literacy, or how to go about writing a script for one, look for some posts about it on the Book Chook blog in the near future.