Monday, August 29, 2011
Book Review: The Guardians of Ga'Hoole Book One: The Capture by Kathryn Lasky (Scholastic, 2003)
Recommended for ages 9-12
Newbery Award winning author Kathryn Lasky's Guardians of Ga'Hoole series has been hugely popular since the publication of the first book in the series, The Capture. In 2010, Warner Brothers released a movie based on the first three books in the series and its companion website offers quizzes, games and book facts. A Guardians of Ga'Hoole wiki offers exhaustive information about characters and storylines. Scholastic's Guardian's website offers additional content, including printables and information about owls (the main characters in the series), as well as a discussion guide and biography on Lasky. The series has taken on a life of its own in many ways, similar to such literary touchstones as Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings.
The book begins with Soren, a young barn owl born into a loving family in the forest of Tyto. He has a cruel older brother, Kludd, a sweet younger sister, Eglantine, and a beloved snake nursemaid, Mrs. Plithiver. One day, Soren falls out of his nest and is kidnapped, taken to the St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls, where he meets Gylfie, a small Elf Owlet.
St. Aggie's, as the Academy is referred to, is a thinly veiled deprogramming center/work camp for owls where they are subjected to sleep deprivation and corporal punishment in order to break them down and create a blank slate upon which the St. Aggie's owls can build and create an army for owl domination. By sticking together and focusing on their families, each other, and the mythical stories of the Ga'Hoole, the guardians of owlkind, Soren and Gylfie defy the odds and retain their individuality. They ultimately escape St. Aggie's with some help on the inside and head out in search of the Great Ga'Hoole Tree, where they hope to find help to save the owls from the St. Aggie's army. They meet two other escapees, Digger and Twilight, who join them in their search.
I found myself having trouble enjoying The Capture. I vacillated between being taken aback at the brutality of a book written for a relatively young audience and just not connecting with the story. The book is graphic in its depiction of the punishment heaped on the younger owls and Lasky does not shy away from writing about murder and cruelty. The terror of losing one's own identity, coupled with cold-blooded murder, make for a potentially terrifying read to some readers on the younger half of the age range, and I'd recommend parents reading the book with their children to address any fears that may come up. The book speaks to the fear of being taken, the terror of not knowing how to get back to one's family, and the sense of hopelessness that can overpower someone in that situation.
Other times, I was frustrated with the use of owl jargon - the owls have their own phrases and terms, and it appeared haphazard in its usage - and bored with some of the more plodding scenes at St. Aggie's. I wanted more from the book than it was ready to give me - perhaps reading further into the series will help me connect at a later point.
Kathryn Lasky has written over 100 books for children and has a great website that offers video messages for her fans, a section detailing her awards and information about her upcoming books. Naturally, there is a section devoted to the Guardians series, and she even features fan art dedicated to the series. I really liked that Lasky, who exhaustively researches both her fiction and nonfiction writing, shares her research and links for books she's working on.