Title: Whoo-Ku Haiku, A Great Horned Owl Story
Author: Maria Gianferrari
Illustrator: Jonathan Voss
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2020
Themes: poetry, haiku, great horned owls
A great horned owl pair
Finds squirrel’s nest of oak leaves
Perched high in a pine.
Papa adds birch bark
Nest blanketed with feathers
Snow sleeps on the ground.
Watch as a pair of great horned owlets peep and squeak in their feathered nest. Mama and Papa hunt for food and fend off predators while the chicks grow strong enough to hop and flap between the branches of their tree, then leap and fly away, ready to explore the wild world around them.
In this thrilling nonfiction picture book, a combination of haiku and dazzling illustration shows readers the fierce majesty of one of North America’s most ubiquitous wild animals. (publisher)
Why I like this book:
As a long time owl fan, I was smitten by the use of haiku to tell the story of a Great Horned Owl pair, from the making of a nest, laying the eggs, to the growth and development of the two owlets. There’s a full story arc included with great nonfiction details, and this poetic form fits both the raw reality of the predatory nature of these birds as well as their parental care. The haiku make the book very accessible even to young children.
The watercolor illustrations are detailed and beautifully natural, truly like paintings with some amazing close-ups of these predators. The majesty and mystery of these lovely birds are captured through text and art alike. This is a nature-lover’s dream.
The back matter includes more fascinating facts about the Great Horned Owl and suggestions for further resources making it perfect to include in both poetry and nature units in class.
Quick Q & A with Maria.
[JM] What came first the poetic form, the story line or the animal choice? And what made you feel that haiku fit this story best?
[MG] Unusually for me, the title came first, created by my then elementary school aged daughter. We used to “write” haikus to pass the time while on long car rides. She wrote her own version of Whoo-Ku and gifted it to me when she was in third grade. Years later I decided to write my own and settled on Great horned owls, since their range is very widespread, giving kids who live all over North America, whether in rural or urban regions, a chance to possibly see them.
[JM] How much did you know about the Great Horned Owl before beginning this story?
[MG] I knew some very general things about them, things like their size and approximate range. But the really fun part about research is learning new and cool things. Whoo knew that they’re one of the few creatures who prey on skunks?!
[JM] What is your favorite spread fromWhoo-Ku Haiku?
[MG] That’s such a hard question! I love Jonathan’s art—it’s stunning, full of intricate detail and dramatic tension. I think it’s a tie between the hatching chicks and the scene where the owlet is trying to escape from the red fox. I love how Jonathan portrayed the danger there, both for the owlet and for the red fox, from Mama owl’s sharp talons.
[JM] How many times might you take a manuscript to your critique group before you present it to your agent?
[MG] It really depends on the manuscript. Some seem to pour out in almost ready form, though not very often, while others require multiple drafts to find the real heart of the story. This one didn’t take that many drafts before I sent it to my agent, Joan Paquette, and before it was acquired by Ari Lewin at Putnam. In general, my nonfiction picture books tend to take fewer drafts than my fiction picture books do.
[JM] Any tips for a child/family who wants to go owling for the first time?
[MG] Start by reading one of my favorite owl books, Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen, and then contact a local Audubon or wildlife conservation group in your area which might offer night birding hikes or “owl prowls.”
[JM] Can you share what you are working on at the moment?
[MG] I’m working on—what a surprise—another dog book, though this one is more of a concept book rather than a narrative. Other than that, I am mostly between projects at the moment and have been doing some edits for some recently acquired projects scheduled for release in 2021.
WHOO’s Maria Gianferrari? She’s a self-proclaimed bird nerd with a special fondness for raptors. Her love affair with birds began in 7th grade science class when her teacher, Mr. Lefebvre, initiated a bird count. While walking in her neighborhood, Maria’s always on the look-out for all kinds of birds, and she loves searching winter tree tops for nests in her northern Virginia neighborhood where she lives with her German-scientist husband and German speaking daughter. This is her first book with GP Putnam’s Sons. She’s also the author of another bird book, Hawk Rising. To learn more about Maria, please visit her website: mariagianferrari.com.
Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.
ANYONE WHO COMMENTS BELOW WILL BE ENTERED INTO THE GIVEAWAY (US residents only) EDITED TO ADD: the winner of the random draw was Susan Uhlig