This was one of fils aîné‘s presents last Christmas, but it somehow got neglected until now. Jill Tomlinson’s animal stories are deserved classics with charming creatures and gentle stories and The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark is no exception. This new edition (Egmont, 2004) features beautiful pencil illustrations by Paul Howard that really enhance the book.
Plop is a baby barn owl, perfect in every respect except one: he’d rather be a day bird. So Mrs Barn Owl sends him down to talk to an array of different people about the dark and find out why it’s nothing to be scared of. His very first encounter is with a little boy waiting for the fireworks to begin, who takes him for a Catherine wheel. (So reading the book at the beginning of November actually worked out rather well and certainly helped with getting the boys in the right mood for our own teeny-tiny display yesterday!) He learns that dark is, among other things, fun, kind, exciting and beautiful. By the end of the book he is ready to go out hunting with his parents after all, and I will admit to having a little lump in my throat at that point.
It’s perfectly pitched in humour, family affection and in terms of fighting little people’s fears. Fils aîné was chortling away at the funny things Plop says, while I had a great deal of sympathy with the long-suffering and rather sarcastic Mr Barn Owl. We all enjoyed the repeated refrains that recur throughout the story too.
A wonderful book that I remember fondly from my own childhood and I hope that this will be the start of a long re-discovery of the series. (There is also an abridged picture book version out there, so make sure you get the right one!)