The Barn Owls

The Barn Owls

  • 795

By: Tony Johnston / Illustrated by: Deborah Kogan Ray

Take flight with the Barn Owl on his journey through the sky!

Following the life cycle of the barn owl, this gentle poem evokes a sense of warm sunshine and envelopes readers with the memory of the scent of a wheat field.

Recalling in quiet tones the memory of a barn that has stood alone in a wheat field for one hundred years at least, the owls have nested there and have hunted in the fields and circled in the night skies as time slowly slipped by. Every night, as the moon rises, a barn owl awakens and flies out to hunt. Feathered against the endless starry night, he swoops and sails to the darkened wheat field below and catches a mouse in his nimble talons. With outstretched wings, this barn owl returns to his barn nest and his hungry family, repeating the ageless ritual his ancestors have practiced here, in this barn, for at least one hundred years.

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Author & Illustrator Bios:

Tony Johnston, author

Tony Johnston has published over one hundred books, including The Cat with Seven Tails, Uncle Rain Cloud, and she won the Southern California Award for her book, Any Small Goodness: A Novel of the Barrio.

In her spare time, Johnston has worked at a children's bookstore, taught a course on picture book writing at UCLA, and studied poetry writing for children with Myra Cohn Livingston. Tony is grateful for the chance to work at what has become her life's goal-to be a good storyteller.

Read more about Tony.

Deborah Kogan Ray, illustrator

Deborah Kogan Ray is an award-winning author and illustrator of children's books, including Dinosaur Mountain (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and The Impossible Voyage of Kon-Tiki. She particularly enjoys depicting the natural world. Deborah lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Read more about Deborah.

Editorial Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews

From Johnston (An Old Shell, 1999,etc.), poetic phrases that follow a ghostly barn owl through days and nights, suns and moons.

Barn owls have been nesting and roosting, hunting and hatching in the barn and its surroundings for as long as the barn has housed spiders, as long as the wheat fields have housed mice, "a hundred years at least." The repetition of alliterative words and the hushed hues of the watercolors evoke the soundless, timeless realm of the night owl through a series of spectral scenes. Short, staccato strings of verbs describe the age-old actions and cycles of barn owls, who forever "grow up/and sleep/and wake/and blink/and hunt for mice." Honey-colored, diffused light glows in contrast to the night scenes of barn owls blinking awake. A glimpse into the hidden campestral world of the elusive barn owl.


Soft, striking, double-page spreads focus on a family of barn owls that lives in a century-old California barn, which is made of redwood and surrounded by oak trees and fields of wheat. A few words of simple, poetic text accompany each picture, stressing the ebb and flow of life in and around the barn. Some of the pictures, such as the impressionistic painting of an owl floating above a wheat field, are cast in a golden glow. In others, the owls loom large as they care for their young in the cramped space of the barn's rafters, or evoke the silent flight of an owl hunting at night. The pictures match the text's simplicity and understated tone making this a quietly eloquent nature book.

School Library Journal

Johnston has created a tribute to the common barn owl. Her creatures doze "in the scent of wheat" and leave "the barn through a bale of light." Golden wheat tones suffuse Ray's watercolor-pencil and paint art. Author and illustrator run lyrical, but they don't lose sight of the bird's daily bread--the mouse. The center spread wordlessly depicts an owl aloft, a mouse dangling lifelessly from its beak, wings cutting through a dark night lit only with the merest sliver of moon. Elsewhere, as grown owls bring the newest offering to their loft-bound babies, sharp eyes will pick out the skeletal remains of previous meals. None of this is gory, just matter-of-fact: "Owls have hunted in this place, mice have hidden in this wheat one hundred years at least." The poetry and paintings will make children wat to learn more about these mysterious creatures. No humans intrude on this venture into barn owl life and the species is different, but the book is a natural lead in to Jane Yolen's Owl Moon (Philomel,1987).


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ISBN: 978-0-88106-982-2

ISBN: 978-1-60734-204-5 EPUB
For information about purchasing E-books, click here.

Ages: 4-8
Page count: 32
8 1/2 x 11

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