cover image The Duck and the Owl

The Duck and the Owl

Hanna Johansen, , illus. by Käthi Bhend, trans. from the German by John S. Barrett. . Godine, $17.95 (72pp) ISBN 978-1-56792-285-1

Johansen and Bhend (Henrietta and the Golden Eggs ) here stage a debate between a waterfowl and a nocturnal predator. Four wordless double-page illustrations, which look like etchings or fine-line pen-and-ink stippling, introduce the protagonists in their natural habitats. The duck paddles in a wooded glade, then flaps away as bossy swans approach; the owl snuggles in a hollow tree, then aggressively confronts five crows. The woodland atmosphere is disrupted, however, when the duck opens a flirty dialogue with its natural enemy: "Hey, you up there!" she calls to the drowsy owl napping in a birch tree. The duck and owl soon find they have little in common. "You're supposed to sleep at night," the duck argues. "No way!" replies the owl. "It's much too exciting/ to sleep at night/ when it's really dark,/ when you can.../ .../ wait/ for something good to eat/ to come by." The duck expresses disgust that the owl eats mice, the owl criticizes the duck's bobbing for food and the duck attempts to perch in a tree despite her webbed feet. Their disagreements devolve into repetitive, childish bickering ("I didn't start it, you did!"/ "No you did!"), which fits awkwardly with the delicate drawings and the elegantly designed, small-format book itself. Bhend's harmonious illustrations acknowledge actual wildlife: a bird brings worms to its chicks, a snake swallows a frog and an egret stalks the snake. Johansen's cartoonish conversation ill suits the naturalistic imagery, and the text never quite finds its balance. Ages 5-up. (Nov.)