Monday, October 27, 2008

The Captive by Kathryn Lasky (Guardians of Ga'Hoole Book One)

In her back-of-the-book bio, Kathryn Lasky acknowledges a long fascination with owls and mentions her extensive research for an intended nonfiction book about them. Realizing, however, that photographs of shy, nocturnal birds would be difficult, she instead decided on fantasy.

The Guardians of Ga'Hoole series, recently completed at fifteen books, begins with Soren, a barn owl, and his family awaiting the birth of a new sibling. The first book, The Captive, introduces readers to the owls' world, and Lasky's expert research is immediately apparent. The egg tooth of Soren's new sister breaks through the egg. Soren's brother, Kludd, is about to begin branching, which is the first owl steps toward flight, but must wait another month before his flight feathers come in. Readers learn about owl digestion and owl pellets, as opposed to all other birds who are "wet poopers." There are celebrations as young owls grow - ceremonies of first insect, first fur-on-meat, first bones, and first flight.

Don't let me mislead you. This isn't a textbook. Owl facts are woven into and throughout the history, way of life, and even the differing cultures within all owls.

And there's adventure. One night Soren mysteriously falls from his nest before he can fly. Soren suddenly finds himself facing the same fate of many young owls recently. He's been snatched. He is forcibly taken to St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls, an orphanage in name only. Young owls are stripped of what makes them truly owls. Flying is discouraged or prohibited. Feathers are plucked. Diets are restricted to mainly crickets. Young owls are intentionally moon blinked, a sort of brainwashing when owls are exposed to full moon shine.

Soren meets Gylfie, a small yet bold elf owl, and together they discover the evil secrets of St. Aegolius. With the help of a few friends within the orphanage, and through great sacrifice, they manage to escape, intending to journey to the Great Ga’Hoole Tree in Hoolemere in an attempt to stop the evil entering the Owl kingdoms.

At times The Captive moves slowly, but each time the pace creeps it is to explain another important part of owl history, legend, or culture. It's necessary and creates an incredibly complete setting. I haven't read past book one, but I intend to. Soon. I expect the pacing will quicken as less description is needed.

I also intend to give it to some fourth graders in the near future and get their opinions, which of course carry much more weight than mine.

And finally, thanks to Michelle who recommended the books to me in the first place. It seems her sixth grade son had been fascinated by the series for some time, so I guess I should probably thank him for his recommendation. Thanks!

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