Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

A Raptor Reality

Deep in the darkening shadows of night, a sound echoes from the trees.  Along an empty roadway, the heavy flapping of wings stirs the air around bare branches.  You hear them more than see these mostly nocturnal predators.  It's a gift to observe one in the wild.

Known as mighty hunters, they silently and swiftly strike.  Their combined physical characteristics create a deadly force.  Whoo-Ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story (G. P. Putnam's Sons, March 3, 2020) written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Jonathan Voss is an informative, captivating exploration of the life cycle of these majestic birds.

A great horned owl pair
Finds a squirrel's nest of oak leaves
Perched high in a pine.

This haiku poem is the first of twenty-four beautifully worded insights.  Each observation adds to our growing knowledge of great horned owls.  It's as if we are present, watching this duo day by day through the seasons.

The newly discovered nest is re-fashioned while snow still coats the ground.  The owl pair are not without enemies; crows are a constant distraction.  The male hunts while the female tends the eggs, three pale orbs.

Even the most vigilant parents can loose an egg, a feast for a nearby woodland creature.  After the remaining two eggs hatch, mother and father feed, shield and guard them.  Watch out for that hawk!  Owlets venture from the nest, testing their feathers.  Flap wings, flap!  Flee from a waiting fox!  A mother dives.

Owlets rest, now safely back in their nest, eyes glowing in the night.  Parents protect.  Owlets learn to survive as months pass.  When autumn approaches, wings lift two to begin their lives away from the only home they've known.

With each haiku, writer Maria Gianferrari brings us deeper into the sensory experience of being a great horned owl.  Her masterful use of this literary form provides facts but also supplies us with a range of emotional moments.  We become one with these raptors through alliteration, onomatopoeia and poetry. Here are two more haiku.

Mama lays an egg
In the starlight it glistens
A moon of its own.

Pip. Pip. Pip. Poking.
A hole, cracking. Cracking. Crack!
Pink owlet pecks out.

Upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case readers will have to remind themselves to breathe.  This stunning portrait of the great horned owl parents and two owlets presents them for the nobility they are.  This nocturnal setting shows them at their realistic best.  The exquisite details throughout the book begin with this initial image.  The use of light and shadow is excellent.

The trunk of the tree crosses the spine to show the male in flight, wings spread upward.  Its eyes are searching, glowing as it gazes.  This bird is poised for action.  The tip of the left wing bleeds off the top, indicating motion.

A dark forest green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page the male and female have located an empty squirrel nest.  The one perches on a branch above the nest, as the other, wings up, prepares to land in the nest. On the final page, tree branches frame the text as a great horned owl, mouth open, flies between the dedication and publication information.


using sepia ink and watercolor on Arches 300# hot press watercolor paper with color added digitally

by artist Jonathan Voss these illustrations elevate the words.  The depiction of the settings, seasons and time of day involves you completely as readers.  All the pictures are double-page visuals.  Sometimes the text is tucked into an image.  Other times a column is supplied on either the right or the left for the narrative.  Jonathan Voss has painted a smaller separate illustration to be placed on these columns at the bottom.  They expand the story vividly.

To place emphasis on pacing Jonathan Voss alters the point of view.  When the crows initially attack, it is at night.  We see them swooping against a somewhat cloudy sky with the full moon peeking through as the female owl, closer to us, defends the nest.  When the fox tries to consume the owlet and the mother plunges to the rescue, we are right in the action.  You can hear all the loud sounds amid the fury of wings and snapping teeth.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the first owlet cracks through the egg.  We are very close to this wonder of new life.  The nest is shown along the bottom of the page.  The mother owl's body extends from left to right.  On the left her head is shifted to look at the newly emerged owl baby.  Her wing acts as a sheltering roof over the small bird.  The use of color and shading is radiant.

This book, Whoo-Ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Jonathan Voss, is a remarkable nonfiction depiction.  Two pages at the end are devoted to twelve more fascinating facts and a list of resources divided into books, websites and videos.  I can't imagine a personal or professional collection without a copy of this book.

To learn more about Maria Gianferrari and Jonathan Voss and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Maria Gianferrari has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  Jonathan Voss has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view the title page.  This title is highlighted with interviews at Mrs. Knott's Book Nook, Jennifer Mary G, Wild Delight and Miss Marple's Musings.

UPDATE:  Jonathan Voss is featured at KidLit411 on April 3, 2020.

WHOO's Maria Gianferrari?  She's a self-proclaimed bird nerd with a special fondness for raptors.  Her love affair with birds began in 7th grade science class when her teacher, Mr. Lefebvre, initiated a bird count.  While walking in her neighborhood, Maria's always on the look-out for all kinds of birds, and she loves searching winter treetops for nests in her northern Virginia neighborhood where she lives with her German-scientist husband and German speaking daughter.  This is her first book with GP Putnam's Sons.  She's also the author of another bird book, Hawk Rising

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. I've seen this shared in many places & each time loved what is shared. I am suddenly hearing a robin's good morning chirp. Birds will keep us going! Hope you and your family are doing well, Margie. Best of wishes in this tough time we're living.

    1. So true, Linda. There is something quite meditative about bird-watching and hearing their beautiful songs. Stay safe!

  2. Thanks so much for the lovely review, Margie!!

  3. I admire Maria's outstanding picture books. Truly works of art. Jonathan's illustrations take me away to another place and time--vibrant with life!

    1. So kind of you, Charlotte--thank you!

      Agreed--his art is divine!!

  4. Thanks, as always, for the beautifully written and lovely review, Margie!!