________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 2 . . . . September 12, 2008

cover Ookpik: The Travels of a Snowy Owl.

Bruce Hiscock.
Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press (Distributed in Canada by Publishers Group Canada), 2008.
32 pp., hardcover, $16.95.
ISBN 978-1-59078-461-7.

Subject Headings:
Snowy owl-Juvenile literature.
Snowy owl-Migration-Juvenile literature.

Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.

Review by Margaret Snow.

**** /4

Ookpik: The Travels of a Snowy Owl, by American author Bruce Hiscock, is a nonfiction work which reads like a picture book, an approach which makes it easy for children to pick out the interwoven facts while doing a recreational read. Hiscock, being both an naturalist and friend of the environment, has created more than nine books and illustrated others with this type of format. This one is my personal favourite so far. His research has been so complete that he even includes our neighbours to the north — the Inuit.

      As might be assumed from the title, the "circle of life" for the snowy owl and the incredible journey of a migrating bird are the main themes running through the book.

FOUR EGGS, WHITE AS THE SNOWS OF WINTER, lay in the shallow nest on the Arctic tundra. The eggs are still warm from the mother bird. But as gusts of icy wind swirled over them, they began to cool. An Arctic fox, making his rounds, saw the nest was left unguarded. He trotted straight up the hill, hoping to steal an egg or two.

Just as the fox was about to grab his prize, a huge white owl came streaking down from the sky. Feathered feet with sharp talons struck the little fox with a glancing blow. He tumbled backward, rolled over, and raced off.


internal art

      The story begins with the birth of four hatchling snowy owl chicks in a settlement on Baffin Island. The reader learns of the dedication and care both parents put forth to ensure survival of their young. What the climate is truly like in the Arctic is embedded in the story. The storyline continues to follow the offspring where the reader discovers the reason for the mortality rate of the young, witnesses the accomplishment of first flight and learns how the nestlings become self sufficient hunters. The impact on environment can be seen in some seasons, due to low food supplies causing survival instincts to kick in prompting young owls to migrate south. On the bird’s excursion south, the reader becomes a spectator of the fauna and flora changes while accompanying Ookpik on his solo flight. As always, animals must learn the dangers of man when venturing south — in this case "the huge red monster with glowing eyes" aka a pickup truck. Once in the wintering grounds, Ookpik achieves celebrity status with the locals due to the rarity of such a bird sighting. The story concludes when Ookpik returns to his homeland the following spring.

      The use of rich vocabulary prompts children to derive the meaning of words through context. The connotative meanings of word choices have made explicit images of predators following their natural instincts, thereby creating a fast paced sensation to the script.

      With the author’s also having the talent to be the illustrator, many nuances can be discovered on a variety of levels as one dissects the pictures. The hauntingly beautiful water colour Arctic images are crafted to keep the viewer’s eye searching throughout the page. Take for example the painting of Ookpik flying over the taiga. The viewer’s eyes are pulled in a zigzag through the trees by following the river, and they end up in the large frozen lake where the reader is conveniently drawn into the text. The pond is mirror imaged on the opposite page.

      The use of the gold and browns allows readers to witness the feel of "the land of the midnight sun." Hiscock's water colour technique frequently reminds me of the style of Van Gogh, especially his version of the "Starry Night" over the Canadian Parliament buildings.

      Educators particularly will appreciate Hiscock's introduction with the accompanying map detailing why he was motivated to tell this fascinating story. In the author's notes at the back of the book, owl facts are arranged by headings — range, size, food, life, courtship and nesting — to succinctly answer any questions readers might have had after reading the text. In this section, Hiscock explains not only the hows of this animal but also the whys.

      Junior artists will enjoy a trip to Hiscock's website at www.brucehiscock.com where they can learn to draw both the snowy owl and a mouse (which could be the lemming or vole as well) when recreating their own version of the story. Hiscock's website also features original photographs revealing the seasonal beauty of his home in the Adirondack Mountains in New York State which was the stimulus for some of the artwork.

      A teacher might use this book with primary children to do a shared writing activity, pulling facts out of written material for a research project. After doing this, a teacher might invite rangers from a national or provincial park to come in and dissect owl pellets as suggested as an activity in the website. One might further take advantage of Hiscock's artistic talents with the primary and junior students to demonstrate how watercolour can be used to give the image of a rock, grass, tree etc. rather than the ball with a stick method. Excellent examples of one point perspective, silhouettes and the shading can be pointed out.

      After finishing a read aloud and accompanying study in class, boys, in particular, will be so captivated that they'll be eager to sign this book out so they could share their newly acquired knowledge with their parents.

Highly Recommended.

Margaret Snow is a teacher-librarian and early literacy teacher in a small school in Southwestern Ontario.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.