Owl Bat Bat Owl is a wordless picturebook by the award-winning Irish writer and illustrator, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick. It is her first wordless title and also, she says, ‘my first book with all animal characters and the first time I’ve illustrated a book using digital art.’
A lot of ‘firsts’ then. And it’s also a first for the Owl family in the story, who suddenly find their peaceful existence on the branch they know as home disrupted by the unwelcome arrival of the Bat family. These new neighbours choose to hang under the same branch the owls are perched on – and initially, from above and below, there are startled faces and wary glances. Then, after a certain amount of embarrassed shuffling, the situation is resolved as each family claims its own part of the branch. Order is restored. But is it? The two babies have other plans – and an incoming storm soon threatens the whole group.
This charming tale of friendship and co-operation is beautifully told through the facial expressions and body language of its characters. We sense the babies’ innocent longing just to play together, the parents’ anxiety about mixing with strangers, and the fear that all the characters experience when confronted with the very real menace of a dangerous situation. We see also just how much can be achieved when we all look out for each other.
It’s a story about overcoming prejudice and learning to live together, with a theme of migration that is likely to strike a chord with modern readers. Fitzpatrick clearly had this in mind when she created the book. In an interview on the blog ‘Writing and Illustrating’ (see link below), she says: ‘I was very much thinking of the current situation in the world as I created this story. So many people are displaced, fleeing war and famine and desperate situations, and we need to make space for them on our comfortable branches.’
So this book certainly celebrates the virtues of kindness and tolerance. But in case that makes it sound a little too ‘worthy’, it is worth pointing out that it’s also witty, pretty and physically engaging to read, as you can turn the book upside down to see the world from the bats’ point of view. And there’s another fun thing to spot as well – a tiny spider love story that literally hangs by a thread alongside the main plot. Owl Bat Bat Owl is a great read for both children and adults, and I heartily recommended it.