Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson, is a classic children’s picture book. It is a timeless story that even very young children can relate to, with stunning and engaging illustrations. If you have children at school they might already know this story as it is often read and enjoyed in nurseries and classrooms.
The owl babies Sarah, Percy and Bill are gorgeous white, fluffy, wide-eyed owlets. They live in the hollow of a tree with their Owl Mother. We are introduced to them in their cosy, safe home with their Mum. They are all together.
One night they awake to find that their Owl Mother has gone! The worry on poor little Bill’s face is plain to see. Most young children are likely to have experienced a time when they have woken up and Mummy isn’t there (either in a cot or a bed on their own) or when Mum is away. The situation is instantly recognisable and so early on in the story it usually makes little ones very interested to know what will happen next.
The Owl Babies handle the situation very well. There is no panic or crying. There is definitely fear and you can see it in their expressive faces but they are calm. They start to try and explain the situation to themselves: perhaps she is hunting; perhaps she will bring back mice. But their Owl Mother does not come. They sit on a branch huddled together. They don’t run or flap about, they don’t split up. They sit and wait.
Then silent and swooping their Owl Mother comes home! The Owl Babies flap and jump excitedly, clearly overjoyed at their Owl Mother’s return. She wonders what all the fuss is about. “You knew I’d come back,” she says, echoing the words of many parents when they return from being away.
Cleverly the story ends as it began, all the Owl Babies and their Owl Mother together. The picture is almost exactly the same as that which begins the story, bringing everything full circle to a happy conclusion.
Owl Babies offers a safe and secure opportunity to explore separation anxiety and the worries that children naturally experience. The story allows children to look at the situation of a parent going away through the eyes of Sarah, Percy and Bill and explore their own feelings. It also reinforces the idea that the situation will be resolved, if a parent goes away they will come back. If Mummy leaves you at nursery or with a childminder she will come and pick you up.
The story is not always a comfortable read and it reminds me that I should always read a story before sharing it with a child, so I know what is coming and I am prepared for questions that might arise. Don’t ever think that just because a book is meant for children it does not contain challenging themes. The Owl Babies are alone for a short time and they handle the situation well, but that time is also full of fear and tension. It is good for children to be able to experience feelings through stories and explore how the characters handle the scenario and it can help them make sense of similar situations in their own lives. Stories like Owl Babies help to develop a child’s emotional intelligence and learn how to deal with anxiety and for that reason I believe it is a very important book but if you know that a child’s personal circumstances mean that this story is not right for them at this time, then save the story for another day.
We have read the story many times and it is interesting to see the change in response to the story over time. On our first reading there was definite concern that the Owl Mother had gone but we were happy when it was clear that everything would be fine in the end. Having read the story several times together Burt will now add his own reassurances and try to persuade the little owls that it will all be alright, taking the oldest owl, Sarah’s, role a little further.
Little Bill gets the final words in the story, which always result in a lovely and reassuring hug. Owl babies is a favourite of ours and another story, like Monkey Puzzle by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, which ends with a focus on Mum.
Owl Babies offers the perfect opportunity to explore feelings, anxieties and worries. It is a story charged with emotion and looking at the reactions of the Owl Babies is a good route to discussing a child’s own feelings.
Here are some ideas or questions that you might want to use to start a discussion in your family. You know your family and which questions they are ready to tackle now and which can be left for another day:
- How do the Owl Babies feel when they realise that their Owl Mother is gone?
- How do you feel when the Owl Babies first realise that their Owl Mother is gone?
- How do you feel when you are dropped off at school/childminder’s/Grandma’s?
- What do the Owl Babies do to help them feel better?
- The Owl Babies talk to each other and this helps them feel better. Do you think that talking about your worries can help you feel better?
- What worries you? When do you get worried?
- If you are worried what can you do to feel better?
- Are you afraid of anything?
- If you are afraid what can you do to feel better?
- If you were lost or alone what would you do?
Crafts and activities for kids
There are lots of opportunities for discussion, play and crafts inspired by Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson. The story only has four characters and lends itself to retelling the story with puppets or props. It has a classic introduction, problem and resolution so it is also a fantastic for exploring the structure of a story as well as emotions.
Have a look at the Pinterest Board full of crafts and activities for kids…
or take a look at these activities to accompany reading the book:
- Read and Create Handprint Owl
- The Fairy and The Frog Owl Babies Story Sack
- Teach Preschool Painting Owl Babies
- Sun Hats and Wellie Boots Owl Baby Story Puppets
- Art and Soul Preschool Egg Box Owls
Here is a fantastic animated version of the story…
What have you been reading this week?