Owls in the Family is a fun story about Billy, a boy in Saskatchewan, who has many strange pets, including two very funny owls. It is inspired by a true story of Farley Mowat’s childhood. Very entertaining. I read this book out loud to the boys a little over 2 years ago, and we were all laughing at the stories. Owls in the Family is sort of an easy version of Rascal (which I reviewed here last week). Both boys have enjoyed this book. Some friends had loaned us a copy, and we enjoyed it so much, we had to get our own. It is a great book for that reading stage that is just past easy readers, but still intimidated by big chapter books. It’s short at just 11 chapters, and each chapter has a funny story. Our copy is 89 pages with some illustrations.
Parents should be aware that Billy hunts and traps wild animals. There are a couple of references to getting a “licking,” or spanking. And, let’s be honest, every kid is going to want an owl as a pet after reading this book.
The message of this book is to be kind to animals. The stories encourage a love of nature and exploration.
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My Mom-Meter gives Owls in the Family an overall safety rating of 1 (Safe) for ages 7 and up.
Category ratings (click on the category to see specifics):
Wikipedia has a plot summary here.
- You might want to talk to your child about the ethics of keeping wild animals as pets.
- Weep’s spirit was broken by the bullies in the oil drum. You might want to talk to your kids about the effect of our actions on others and how we should protect the weak and helpless.
- “Weeps didn’t believe he could fly, and that was that.” Have you ever decided you couldn’t do something before you really tried to do it?
- When a teacher, Mr. Miller, gets attacked by an owl and almost falls out of a tree. When he gets down, he pulls out a bottle out and starts guzzling it. He tells the boys it is “cold tea.” Later, after he is attacked again, it is mentioned that he finished off his “cold tea.”
- One of the illustrations in the book shows a pipe in the dad’s mouth.
- Some boys put a baby owl in an oil drum, and are dropping rocks on it to hear it cry. The baby owl is sick and hungry. Billy knows that to tell them to stop “would mean a fight,” so he bargains with them.
- When mentioning tough kids, Billy says “Those owls were better bodyguards than tigers.”
- Billy is called up to the front of the class because he has not done his homework. “Fifi [the teacher] made me come up in front of the class so she could tell me how dumb I was.”
- The new minister shows up to talk to Billy’s mother about Billy “skipping Sunday School.”
“Queer” is used twice in the old-fashioned sense of the word, as in different or strange.
“Virgin” is used once, as in “virgin prairie.”
“Cayuse” is used once. It means a horse.
- “By Gang” is said once.
- When a teacher, Mr. Miller, gets attacked by an owl and almost falls out of a tree, he starts “yelling some strange things.”
- Mr. Miller says “blame fool” once. “Any blame fool who says owls can’t count is a liar!”
- “What on earth” is used once.
- “Darn” is used once.
- “Good heavens!” is said once and “For Heaven’s sake” is said once.
- When Wol unexpectedly lands on the new minister’s shoulder, the new minister starts “yelling blue murder.”
- “Dumb” is used once. A teacher calls Billy up to the front of the class to “tell me how dumb I was.”
- Some bullies call Billy and Bruce “you little rats.”
- Offy, the maid, “used to have queer dreams. She claimed she used to see angels and things in her dreams. Sometimes she saw them when she was supposed to be wide awake.”
- Wol is practically all white. He is descried as looking “like a ghost” at night.
- Some bullies tell Billy and Bruce that they will tie up them up to the Hanging Tree and leave them overnight “with the Injun’s ghost” unless they tell the bullies where the cave is.
- Billy’s dad calls crows “black devils.”
- Billy hides Wol in his room. “I knew perfectly well Mother would never allow me to keep Wol in the house, but I was pretty sure that if I could just keep him lock in my room, and could hide him under the bed when Offy [the maid] was due, nobody would know.” That lasts through breakfast and then Billy is caught.
Potentially Offensive Behavior:
- The boys steal eggs out of nests, presumably to eat.
- Native Americans are referred to as “Indians” throughout the book. Once, they are called “Injuns.”
- The boys make snares out of heavy twine to catch gophers as pets.
- As the jump into the water, the boys shout, “Last one in is a Dutchman!”
- Bruce’s family move away and start a fox farm, raising foxes for fur.
- Bruce writes Billy and tells him that he goes to school with a lot of “real Indian kids.”
- When Billy brings the owls to Bruce’s family’s farm, Weeps is interested in the “meat house, where the fox food was ground up in a big mincing machine…”
- There is a sad scene where the boys find two baby owls dead after a “chinook” (violent storm). They were blown out of the nest and probably died from being cold and wet.
- It is mentioned that Mutt the dog saved Weeps from a “mauling” several times.
- There is a legend that an “Indian” hanged himself on the “Hanging Tree” rather than be captured. Some bullies threaten to tie the boys up to the “Hanging Tree” and leave them overnight if they don’t tell where their hideout is.
- Some bullies show up and want to find their cave. One twists Bruce’s arm behind his back, and the other trips Billy and then sits on him. The bullies tell Billy and Bruce that they will tie up them up to the Hanging Tree and leave them overnight “with the Injun’s ghost” unless they tell the bullies where the cave is. Wol hoots really loud and scares the bullies away.
- The boys have fights as friends, fighting is referred to a few times, but always as a friendly skirmish. (One time, they have a mud-ball fight.)
- When the boys startle a bunch of mallard ducks, Bruce wishes he had his dad’s gun (presumably to shoot some ducks).
- Twice in the book, noise is compared to the sound of a cannon being fired.
- Bruce suggests that his father shoots the old owl s that the boys can get the baby owls as pets. “But that wasn’t fair.”
- Bruce carries a jackknife.
- Billy’s dad says that if Wol ever comes into the house again, “he goes into the roasting pan; and as for you, you’ll get a licking you’ll remember for a week.”
- Some boys put a baby owl in an oil drum, and are dropping rocks on it to hear it cry. The baby owl is sick and hungry. Billy knows that to tell them to stop “would mean a fight, and I knew I couldn’t lick both of them.” So instead, he bargains with them and trades a “Scout knife” for the owl.
- Billy hears that an older boy had “shot the old owl and al but one of the young ones with his .22 rifle.”
- It is mentioned that sometimes kids would bring a dead gopher for the owls to eat. They would have either shot it or snared it.
- Billy grabs his “air gun” when he hears a noise outside.
- A big cat tries to attack Wol, and Wol kills it.
- A German Shepherd attacks Wol, and Wol beats him. “Wol was sitting on the dog’s back, digging his claws in for all he was worth, and ripping chunks out of the dog’s ears with his beak.”
- In an animal parade, someone gets “bitten on the leg, a little bit.”
- When a rattlesnake is let loose, there is pandemonium, and “one of the Mounties had hauled out his big revolver and was waving it in the air….”
- Bruce says that if he had lost the rattlesnake, “I’d have got my britches tanned from here to Mexico.”
- Some bullies show up and want to find their cave. One twists Bruce’s arm behind his back, and the other trips Billy and then sits on him.
- A bunch of crows attack Wol, and he catches one. “There was an explosion of black feathers and the crow went squawking off across the marsh, half-naked.”
- Billy’s dad “got out his shotgun and swore he was going to even up the score.” With the help of Wol, Billy’s dad shot the “black devils” until he “was out of ammunition.”
From a seven-year-old’s perspective: “After reading this book, I thought it would be cool to have pet owls. It was funny and it made me want to spend time outside. If you like funny books, and you can read, you will like this book. Ages 5+”
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