Owly: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer
by Andy Runton
Now I’m the kind of father who frequently buys cute, and sometimes not-so-cute, designer toys (San-x, Friends with You, Dunnies, Gloomybears) ostensibly for my child. Last year Santa brought her the “Uglydog” Uglydoll. I was promptly told that Santa had made a mistake because, “Daddy likes toys like that, not me.” Awww…out of the mouths of babes. One thing we do agree on is My Neighbor Totoro, the Miyazaki movie about an owl/bunny-like forest spirit that rides a legged bus in the form of a cat. I derive great pleasure from buying obscenely expensive imported Totoro merchandise for us to play with. This movie pairs well with the Owly books. The point is: Owly is another place of cuteness where we can meet.
One initial reason I appreciated the Owly books was that I could read them with my three-year old daughter. Being wordless (the only dialogue is expressed through icons), the Owly books were the first books that my daughter could read on her own. We would go along and I’d point at the pictures while she told me the story. I promptly purchased copies of all available titles for my library.
We first read an Owly story on Free Comic Book day a couple years ago. I’ve been hooked ever since. It was great to find a cute animal story we could both appreciate. Owly books are about a flightless wide-eyed owl named Owly and his unlikely worm friend “Wormy”. Over the course of this book, Wormy overcomes his fear of the predator turned herbivore and they become friends. They also befriend some hummingbirds who must eventually fly south for winter. That’s it. What is amazing is the amount of emotional expression and character development Andy Runton manages with no text and cartoon animals. It’s heartwrenching. If you aren’t moved by the Owly books, you are either heavily sedated or sub-human.
Now my daughter is five and has moved on to Pynchon, leaving Daddy reading his comfortable picture stories (I’m a children’s librarian). Speaking of post-modern meta-fiction, please check out the new Caldecott award winner, Flotsam by David Weisner. It’s another piece of wordless storytelling, though with more colorful, detailed and bizarre images. It begins with a child finding an old-fashioned (not digital) camera washed up on the beach. They get the pictures developed and the fun begins.