cover image The Barn Owls

The Barn Owls

Tony Johnston. Charlesbridge Publishing, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-88106-981-5

The hushed tones of this poetry book describe the lives of generations of owls, who have lived in a redwood barn for ""one hundred years/ at least."" Johnston (An Old Shell: Poems of the Galapagos) evokes the rhythms of an owl's life through repetition of words and lines, equating the duration of the barn's existence with the infinite expanse of wheat, echoed in a spread of golden sky and grasses (""where wheat and sky/ are one""). The circular text revolves around nature's cycles, as when ""one by one owls/ wake up/ and blink/ and hunt for mice/ while moons swell/ and shrink."" In watercolor and pencil art, Ray (Jackrabbit) contrasts the glowing, golden tones of the wheat-filled barn with the cool blues of night. Ray does not shy away from the owl's predatory instincts; two illustrations show the fowl firmly grasping a mouse. Among the warmest of paintings are those depicting newly hatched owls with the same enigmatic, masklike faces as those of the parents who gaze down at them: ""Old owls watching,/ new owls born/ in the redwood barn/ in the whisper of wheat."" Conspiring with the spare text's quiet rhythms, these tender images make this book a natural for easing children to sleep, just as real owls begin their nocturnal wanderings. Ages 4-9. (Feb.)