Quill and Quire

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Berkeley’s Barn Owl Dance

by Tera Johnson; Tania Howells, illus.

The familiar theme of leaving the nest is perhaps appropriate for a first picture book, and Calgary’s Tera Johnson and Toronto illustrator Tania Howells are both trying out their wings with this story. Berkeley the owl is applauded and appreciated when she dances among her siblings and parents in the barn where she was raised, and eventually finds a new barn to dance in. In her anxiety about leaving home and eventual arrival at a desirable new place, Berkeley follows a route well marked in literature for young children.

Johnson plays with rhymes and onomatopoeic effects like “a feathertip tap” that can be particularly enjoyed when the story is read aloud. Howells’ gently coloured drawings, with their very expressive barn owl faces, are both humorous and reassuring. Despite the engaging images, however, the book falters a little in its flight, perhaps because the idea of barn owls dancing distracts from the theme of venturing away from home. As well, the story doesn’t have the satisfying sense of drama and resolution that it could have.