The Owl Service

My current book is The Owl Service by Alan Garner, the classic 1968 winner of the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Award.  Though I’m really enjoying the book now that I’m more than half-way through it, I have to admit that I’ve really struggled with the Welsh colloquialisms and the Welsh names of people and places and the allusions to Welsh myths.  We’ve placed this book in the juvenile section of the library, based upon its content, but I’m wondering now if it really belongs in the young adult section.  It would take a precocious fifth grader to wade through all the Welsh vocabulary and stick with the book long enough in order to get fully involved in the story.

Has anyone else out there read this book recently?  I’d love to hear your thoughts about the book, and about who is its actual reader.

(As a postscript, my summer reading time is currently 24 hours; looks like I’ll meet my goal of 30 hours by the end of summer reading, August 18th!)

One thought on “The Owl Service”

  1. 7 Responses to “The Owl Service”
    1. liz fickett Says:
    I have to admit, I have not read The Owl Service, but my experience teaching reading to fifth graders tells me that most would drop it if they had to work that hard just in the sight reading part, let alone comprehension. As a rule, my classes read two to three of Mildred Taylor’s books over the course of their middle school years. Those novels are full of deep south dialect, references to times before my kids were born, and assume some knowledge of the world during the Depression. Now, this is America we’re reading about, yet I have to do an enormous amount of back-teaching and side-by-side teaching of American history, especially of African American history while we read the books. (which I think any teacher would do when teaching a novel set in another time / place) I stress this is America because at least my students have their own lives as reference points, albeit a bit removed from the experiences we’re reading about. The fact that The Owl Service is set in Wales and has Welsh vocab and speech may make it more difficult to understand than is worthwhile to some teachers and students. We always have to ask why? when teaching a book. What is the inherent worth of the reading / teaching experience? However, if it’s a library book and is available to your general reading patron / audience, I think definitely there are advanced juvenile readers out there who are just looking for a bit of a challenge. I can think of about 5 of my former students who would have viewed this book (as you’ve described it) as a welcome challenge and would have gone for it. (was this much more than you asked for?)
    2. Abby Says:
    I totally hear what you’re saying, and you’re reminding me again why I love the greater freedom of working in a library as opposed to a school. One of the last books that I had to teach to my fifth graders at school was Avi’s “The Secret School,” and boy was that a hard one. Deceptively simple, yet it has references to Model T Fords and crystal radios and many other things that my kids had never heard of before. I spent a huge amount of time explaining those cultural references, and too little time discussing the story and helping them with literary comprehension.
    But it’s really gratifying to me for you to say that you can think of five of your former students who would like “The Owl Service,” because the role of the library is, after all, to provide books for everyone. If five kids will find and enjoy this book, then it’s all good!
    3. liz fickett Says:
    I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s all about making it available. I try to do that with my classroom library at the back of my room. I have books there for free reading (required time each class period, any genre, etc.) that range in reading ability level of about third grade (I have quite a few ESL students) to high school, and a bit beyond. We do this DRA reading assessment (I don’t know if you’re familiar with it) that tops out at high school level, and several of my eighth graders topped out at the end of fifth grade, so I have to have lots of quality reading material to keep them reading, and not going for the Danielle Steels that they see lying around at home. I do envy your position as librarian…shelf it, and they will come.
    4. Abby Says:
    I don’t know about you, but I find it’s difficult to locate age-appropriate, yet challenging, books for advanced fifth, sixth, and seventh grade readers. Especially since these advanced kids think that YA books are what they should be reading; it’s confusing to them to find out that the reading rules have changed. Meaning that “older” books no longer equal “more challenging.” There’s a whole new aspect in YA books, content that’s not appropriate for younger readers, and it’s REALLY hard to explain that to them.
    5. liz Says:
    how timely that you wrote that last entry. yesterday i was at b & n (we received a gift card: they’re located 3 hours away…a field trip day!), and i wandered into the ya section, with an eye towards buying some novels for my advanced readers. i came away overwhelmed and empty handed. i read synopses about girls who cut themselves, girls who sleep with boys to get drugs, girls who compete with their best guy friend for the affections of another guy who may or may not be gay…topics i really don’t think my kids are ready for emotionally, at least not most of my kids. and honestly, the reading level is NOT challenging…big font, often written in diary form, double spacing, shortish books. i’m looking for meaty writing, wonderful phrasing, beautiful lyrical passages, vocabulary that stretches their understanding, maybe sends them running for a dictionary or at least looking for a context clue. you are definitely correct about their being new rules about ya…it isn’t necessarily about the difficulty level anymore, it’s more about mature subject matter.
    6. Abby Says:
    Liz – I’ve read a lot of reviews in the last week for J-level books that look like they’ll fill this void we’re talking about. I’ve ordered a lot of them, and I’ll write a blog entry about the best of the bunch once they arrive at the library and I can really get a good look at them.
    Also, I finished “The Owl Service,” and it gets much easier and better towards the end. It’s still a little obtuse, but I’m sure that some of your readers would really like it. It’s available now in a 2006 paperback edition that looks fairly hip (the edition we bought for the library).
    7. liz fickett Says:
    Looks like I’ll have to make another trip to the bookstore…this time my local one. I wonder if I’m capable of walking into a bookstore and emerging with just one title. Hmm, I’ll let you know how that works out! Thanks in advance for the blog on new J books. I look forward to reading it-after you’ve returned from your vaca all bright eyed and bushy tailed!

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