by Martin Waddell
Walker Books $78
Three baby owls, Sarah, Percy and Bill, wake one night to find their mother has flown the nest. They decide to move from their home in the hole of a tree trunk to a nearby branch to wait for her, but as darkness falls their fears grow that she might not return. Although Sarah, the decision-making elder sister, tries to put a positive spin on the whole situation and reassure the others, little Bill's 'I want my mummy' refrain at the end of each page sums up what they are all thinking.
As with all the best children's stories, the ending is a happy one with the mother returning from a successful night's hunt in the nick of time, just as her babies are beginning to think she has gone for good.
Prize-winning author Martin Waddell hits the mark once again with this tender tale for two- to five-year-olds. Despite the simple text, he has managed to instil each owlet with its own personality, and not only is the book almost lyrically written but it offers repetitive lines that little ones can anticipate and repeat out loud. On a deeper level, the book can be used to reassure young children who are experiencing separation anxiety and are worried about being left by their mothers - or by any parent, relative or guardian. It provides a good example of siblings sticking together, and from an educational standpoint can be used to teach about the lifestyle of owls and other nocturnal animals.
Patrick Benson's illustrations are the perfect complement to the text and almost steal the show. Set against a dark background, the beautiful pen-and-ink drawings are soothing rather than scary. Real expressions are depicted in the owls' eyes, from the calm wisdom of the mother to the growing angst and eventual relief of her wide-eyed babies.
Owl Babies is a real treasure and once on your bookshelves will doubtless be read at bedtime over and over again.