Readers of The Lost Art


March 4th, 2009

Writer and Artist: Andy Runton.
Reviewer: Alex


Owly, as the name suggests, follows the exploits of an owl: a cute, semi-anthropomorphic owl whose exploits consist of wandering about in the forest, planting flowers, feeding birds, and so on.

Probably the most significant descriptor of this book is the ‘all-ages’ tag it wears with pride. Runton’s artwork is beautifully cartoony and although words are used (in sound effects and signs), all the ‘speech’ is handled by pictures in word bubbles (plus judicious use of question/exclamation marks). I’m sure that with parental assistance, very young children could enjoy the two gentle tales contained in this book.

The curse of some other ‘all-ages’ material is that while it might appeal to young readers, it lacks the depth to appeal to adults. Whilst Owly is never going to be a deeply socio-philosophical chin-scratcher, it does provide some depth for adult readers to engage with. Runton explores themes of loneliness and friendship quite evocatively (if a little simplistically) as Owly – a lonely bird, feared by many other forest creatures – tries to make friends with a worm and help out some hummingbirds. Although the art and story could both be described as ‘sweet’ (the ahhh-factor is fairly high), it’s finely judged enough so that it never becomes sickly saccharine.

Also interesting and quite endearing is Runton’s close attention to ornithological and botanical detail; for example: Owly finding out which particular kind of plants are favoured by hummingbirds, and where it’s best to plant them (‘Salvia’, full sun / partial shade, if you were wondering).

The combination of scientific detail and anthropomorphic emotion can initially seem somewhat discordant, perhaps most strikingly, the representation of Owly as a kind-hearted bumbling creature instead of the effective nocturnal predator that owls are in reality. Owls have often been used to signify wisdom, magic or malevolence, but here, Runton uses Owly as a very human perspective, examining our uneasy relationship with nature. At the same time though, the clever avoidance of using human speech, means that the characters always remain in the natural world, and don’t become merely some Disney-esque ‘animal-shaped humans’.

The subsequent (currently two) books in the series develop the wider plot a little and expand on the basic premise, but there’s no real ongoing story here. It’s just a nice book, looks cute, warms your heart a little, and makes you want to get out and do a bit of gardening.

Now, where’s my trowel?

Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions Inc. (Sep 2004)
Language: English
ISBN: 1891830627

(First published 27/07/2006.)

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