What makes owls so perfect for children s lit?

Feb 26, 2013
Owls seem to be everywhere lately. First, my mother hit one with her car (true story; don’t worry, it survived); then, days later, I saw this article about an owl that got stuck in a car’s front grill. (Yes, I sent it to my mom to assure her she wasn’t alone!) Now, the New York Times has a piece about the mysterious, beautiful creatures that, they note, “are staples of children’s books.” Why, I wonder? What is it about owls that intrigues us so much as readers? What makes them such kid-friendly, captivating characters? (And why the sudden resurgence?) Obviously, one of the most popular fictional owls is Hedwig, Harry Potter’s companion owl. The Harry Potter series alone has numerous owl characters who support the story in multiple ways, including Errol, Pigwidgeon, and Hermes (all owned by various members of the Weasley family); there’s even a dedicated Owl Post Office! And there are so many books featuring owls as main characters — the Guardians of Ga’hoole series, Carl Hiassen’s Hoot, and a load of picture books — classics like The Owl and the Pussycat, Owl Moon, Owl at Home. A quick search on the Scholastic Book Wizard yielded me more than 500 results for books with “owl” in them! Well, it turns out, owls are kind of perfect for children’s books, precisely because of their mysterious ways (they always seem to be lurking in the dark, no?), and their amazingly cool history. Did you know they date back 60 million years (or longer!)? That means there’s a lot of backstory writers can invent. I also learned from the NYT piece that they’re found in nearly every type of habitat, from tundras to deserts to forests to Central Park. There are more than 200 species, with more surely to be identified. And, of course, they’re oddly beautiful, with their big eyes and hypnotic songs. Do you have a favorite owl in children’s lit?