Welcome back to Paperback Throwback, where I highlight a book from my ever-growing collection of older paperbacks, ‘90s and prior. Come check out everything from Zebra’s line of horror to Scholastic’s preteen Apple Paperbacks, and everything in-between— you’ll know them by their stylishly cheesy covers, flashy plots, and cheap prices.
Join me on this stroll down Literary Memory Lane. Stops include Sweet Valley High, Fear Street, and anywhere else mass market paperbacks may be lurking.
It’s a quiet night at home for this week’s throwback.
After collaborating mainly on animal-focused picture books during the 1960s, author and illustrator Arnold Lobel shifted into longer easy readers with Frog and Toad are Friends in 1970. Composed of five vignettes about amphibious friends, the book revolutionized the concept of easy readers. Eschewing simplistic, basic plots and neutral language in favor of a short but rich exploration of relationships, it proved so popular that he eventually expanded it into a series of four books through 1979.
But Frog and Toad constitutes only a portion of Lobel’s broader career as one of the most influential authors and illustrators in children’s literature. With over 100 credits to his name, he won mainstream praise with both Caldecott and Newbery honors. And in 1981 he won the Caldecott Medal for Fables. With such a varied career, even if a young reader has never read one of his books, chances are they enjoy an author influenced by him.
It’s part of the reason why the majority of his collection is still in print, including Owl at Home, first published in 1975. While Frog and Toad relies on the deep connection between two individuals, Owl at Home relies on solitude. Over the course of five vignettes, Owl acts as a lone figure. Even in the last story, “Owl and the Moon”, Owl is shown overlooking the sea from a rock as the moon rises. No other characters are featured. Just Owl, his thoughts, and his surroundings.
From this comes chaos. Owl, perhaps because of his lack of interaction with others, distracts himself with off-kilter situations. He invites Winter into his home, smashes his bed after becoming scared of his own feet under the blankets, and makes tea from his tears. There’d be an undercurrent of melancholy if Owl didn’t seem so content with his life. And of course, it helps that Lobel, through thoughtful repetition and a blunt viewpoint, infuses humor into an otherwise destructive lifestyle.
Woven throughout are striking, warm watercolor illustrations. Lobel makes even loneliness look attractive.
Title: Owl at Home
Author: Arnold Lobel
Publication Date: October 08, 1975
Classification: Chapter Book