Whoo-ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story by Maria Gianferrari and Jonathan Voss


Once in a great while, we’ll hear a “hoo-hoo-HOOOOO-hoo” coming from our woods in the middle of the night. OWL!

We’re always delighted by this rare sound, since the hooting is our only indication that there really are owls out there. Unlike all the other birds we commonly see (robins, woodpeckers, nuthatches, crows, bluebirds, chickadees, cardinals, wrens), our owly friends, by virtue of being nocturnal and mysterious, like to keep us guessing.

Since it’s pitch black outside (no streetlights), I’ve never actually seen any of the great horned owls that we like to assume are calling to us. They seem to enjoy being elusive, thereby heightening their allure.

Reading Whoo-ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story, a new poetry picture book by Maria Gianferrari and Jonathan Voss (Putnam, 2020), gave me the perfect opportunity to learn more about these magnificent creatures.

I love the idea of a story told entirely in haiku, and Gianferrari brilliantly manages the challenging feat of creating an engaging, suspenseful narrative while imparting essential facts about the life cycle of the most common owl in North America.

The story opens on a snowy day with a great horned owl pair discovering an abandoned squirrel’s nest, which they prepare to their liking.



A great horned owl pair
Finds squirrel’s nest of oak leaves
Perched high in a pine.

Papa adds birch bark
Nest blanketed with feathers
Snow sleeps on the ground.


After defending the nest from disapproving crows, Mama lays a clutch of three eggs, each “A moon of its own.” Papa goes out to hunt while Mama keeps the eggs warm — but when the crows attack again, one of the eggs falls out of the nest — a lucky meal for a raccoon.

After the two remaining eggs hatch, Mama carefully feeds her owlets, who remain “Safe and warm and snug” for a time, while Papa brings home a skunk for dinner.



But life in the woods has more perils in store, as the vulnerable owlets are threatened by a hawk, and one of them is later attacked by a red fox after she falls to the ground during a practice flight. Luckily Mama gets there in time to save her!

The story ends with the owls reunited in their cozy nest under a beautiful moonlit sky. As autumn approaches, the fledglings fly off to “find a home of their own.”

The brevity of haiku is the essence of its power — to capture in direct language a fleeting moment through juxtaposed images. Gianferrari shows off the form to good advantage with her story, as each poem represents an essential beat in the narrative arc. This piques the reader’s interest from the very first poem, subsequently providing instances of comfort and safety, danger and vulnerability, triumph and wonder as the owlets grow. Haiku works well at depicting the unpredictable existence of these raptors, where anything can, and does happen, moment to moment.



Each episode resonates with palpable emotion. There is sadness and loss when Mama loses one of her eggs, anticipation and excitement as the first owlet hatches, menacing fear as the red fox prepares to pounce, and finally, there’s life-and-death terror as Mama dive bombs the fox. Never a dull moment!

With survival comes relief, and a return to calm and harmony:

Together is best
Clan complete; twilight retreats
Full moon is blooming.

Beautiful image!

Jonathan Voss’s stunning ink and watercolor illustrations capture each scene in vivid, evocative detail, as the story progresses from winter nesting to autumn fledging.

The opening spreads, rendered mainly in dark blues, grays and browns, establish the wintry nocturnal setting — wild and woodsy, with moonglow and gauzy clouds adding a touch of mystery. We see how the beautiful owls, with their mottled brown plumage, distinctive feather ear tufts, huge amber eyes and razor-sharp talons, are masters of camouflage among the tall trees and dry foliage.



With owlets hatching in early spring, the palette includes the light greens of new leaves and the warm golds of sunlight as it illuminates the forest. We observe the nestlings snuggled against Mama’s soft breast as they transition into brave fledglings, fluttering among the branches against a brilliant blue sky. Love how sunbeams stream through canopies and burnish tree trunks, sometimes setting the woods aglow with life.

Some of the full-bleed, double page spreads feature inset panels, a nice way to showcase the text and accentuate the action with focused art. These panels remind me of Japanese scrolls, upon which traditional haiku were vertically inscribed.

Voss also makes good use of perspective, with his up close drawings of Mama and chicks (underscoring familial bond and protectiveness), as well as in the intense melée between Mama and fox (you can practically hear the screeching and squawking).

I also like the contrast between the sharp, intricate details of the birds and branches in the foreground against soft focus backgrounds.



Whether with gorgeous renderings of extended wings gliding or mantling, the endearing chicks with their “Dandelion tufts of down,” or the feathery family of four roosting together, Voss has captured the owls’ beauty, grace, agility, amazing hunting skills, and fierce survival instinct.

Whoo-ku Haiku engages, informs, and enchants. The superb marriage of text and art ensures young readers will become engrossed in the story as they learn about these fascinating raptors. It’s also a nice introduction to the haiku form, which may inspire fledgling poets to go on an owl prowl before writing their own poems.

Back matter includes additional notes about great horned owls, as well as books, websites, and videos for further reference. Kids will like knowing how adaptable great horned owls are and how varied their diet is (rabbits, woodchucks, geese, bats) — and they like to swallow smaller prey whole!

I know you like the book’s clever title — just whooose idea was it? Maria’s daughter thought of it and even wrote her own Whoo-ku book when she was in grade school (making up haiku in the car on long road trips was a favorite family pastime). Sounds like there’s more than one wise old owl in their house. 🙂




WHOO-KU HAIKU: A Great Horned Owl Story
written by Maria Gianferrari
illustrated by Jonathan Voss
published by Putnam BFYR, March 3, 2020
Poetry Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.




Once again, I’m collecting links from any poetry-loving bloggers who are doing special projects for Poetry Month. Please send your info to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com, and I’ll happily add you to the Roundup. Also, please help spread the word via your social networks or any relevant listservs. Thanks so much!!



The lovely, ever inventive and multi-talented Tabatha Yeatts is hosting the Roundup at The Opposite of Indifference. Zoom over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week. Stay safe and healthy, and have a nice weekend!


*Interior spreads from Whoo-ku Haiku, text copyright © 2020 Maria Gianferrari, illustrations © 2020 Jonathan Voss, published by Putnam’s BFYR. All rights reserved.

** Copyright © 2020 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

66 thoughts on “Whoo-ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story by Maria Gianferrari and Jonathan Voss

      1. Yes! The lovely Carol Hinz!! So glad we had the chance to meet at NCTE, Irene!

        And agreed! A blooming moon and source of light!!


  1. Whoo does one wish to write a review? You, Jama! It’s a wonderful review of this new book. I am looking forward to seeing and reading it all! Thanks much!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for this lovely review of a beautiful book! It has to go on my wish list! I was lucky enough to come eye to eye with a great horned owl a few years back. About 7 in the evening we heard it, and just a few yards into the wood it sat on a low branch while my niece and I gawked. What a magnificent creature. Maybe I’ll get this book and share it with my niece! Thanks again…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for sharing this book. It looks lovely. We hear owls in the woods around us quite frequently, but seldom catch sight of the. One night, though, I was startled as one swooped right in front of my windshield as I drove home late.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. They are so elusive, that’s for sure! About 10 days ago my husband & I saw a barred owl hunting on the ground at dusk on the side of the road. It always feels so magical when we see them!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful book, title, pictures and haiku! I love haiku. Loved making up haiku with 7th graders, adding their own pictures. I’ve seen only one wild owl in my whole life! I’ll never forget that!! Small things again! Thank you, Maria, Maria’s daughter, Jonathan and Jama!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. First of all, this looks gorgeous, and is EXACTLY the sort of book that has my name all over it! i mean, OWLS and POETRY?! I really should order it.

    But…didn’t you already post a review of this book? Or did I read about it somewhere else? Or did I dream it? Or am I finally going going completely around the bend (a distinct possibility)?

    Anyway, thanks for posting this review and three hoots for Maria Gianferrari and Jonathon Voss for their stunning book.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No, you are not going crazy — I mentioned this book in my last Cool Things Roundup, but only wrote this review now. Decided it needed more than just a mention. 🙂 Stunning book; you definitely need it!


    2. Thanks for that preview too, Jama! I was already delighted that it was a cool thing, but then to have this magnificent review too–feeling so grateful and happy!!

      I hope you’ll have a chance to read it, Barb :).

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Jama, you are always bringing such beautiful books to readers’ attention. This one not only has amazing illustrations but beautiful haikus to draw interest. My granddaughter and I love to hear the owl hoot in the woods but we have never seen one.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Just popping in quickly to say thank you so much, Jama! What a delight & such a lovely surprise to see this in my inbox this morning!! It warmed my heart, and I am very touched by your kind words ❤ ❤ ❤

    I will be back to respond to comments, and will be sharing very soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love this book! Who knew haiku could tell a whole owly story? We have barred owls in our woods, and like you, I’ve never seen one but hear them every night. Thanks for sharing this beautiful book.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. What a delight! The art is beautiful and the story engaging…I know an author with a similar theme to their book. I hope this other author gets it published like this one!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There’s always room for more owl books, that’s for sure, Linda! I hope you will get a chance to read our book 🙂


  10. LOVE this! You do the best reviews! Your descriptions are richly detailed, and you have just the right images to show after your great tell! THANKS!!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. What a gorgeous book and a stunning book review. You have such a knack for encapsulating the essence of beautiful things with a phrase or well-chosen word. I’m a huge fan of owls and the highlight of last winter was a barred owl visit to our yard. I’ve never seen another owl in the wild. Owls + haiku + gorgeous illustrations= an addition to my to-buy list. Thanks so much for introducing me to this beauty!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re the second person to mention barred owls. I definitely need to learn more about them. How lucky you were to see one. Hope your friend visits again. Hope you get to see this book soon, and thanks for your kind words. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Another barred owl sighting!!

      And agreed! The review is beautifully written and so very insightful! We are very lucky indeed!


  12. Hoot-hoot! Lovely review for a lovely book, Jama. Looking forward to checking this title out as I’m intrigued by a haiku delivered story. (reminds me a tiny bit of Dog-ku). Thank you for the introduction to Maria and Jonathan. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dogku is a very sweet book, and if you don’t know Lee Wardlaw’s haiku books, Won Ton as well as Won Ton and Chopstick, definitely check them out, Bridget!

      I hope that you enjoy our book! I know you’ll love Jonathan’s art!


    1. Jonathan’s illustrations are incredibly beautiful, full of detail & energy. I hope you will enjoy the book, Tabatha!


  13. Thank you, Jama, for this wonderful review! This looks like a stunning book. As you said, “a superb marriage of text and art.” I can’t wait to get a copy. We have owls in the woods behind our house, although I’ve never seen one there. I was lucky enough to see one at my son’s house last Christmas. It was an amazing sight!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Stunning is THE word for those gorgeous illustrations, and congrats to the creators on this new book. We have barred owls, as Margaret mentioned, and (3 1/2-pound Chihuahua) Rita is not a fan when they are in our yard. (She’s never loose outside, by the way – on a close leash or carried. We have hawks and eagles, too!) :0) But, owls are magnificent creatures!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Thanks so much, Liz! You know I’m a fan of your books!! Can’t wait for Thank You Garden!! LOVED One Dark Bird & treasure my signed copy ❤


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