________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 40. . . .June 18, 2010


Elf the Eagle.

Ron Smith. Illustrated by Ruth Campbell.
Lantzville, BC: Oolichan Books, 2007.
40 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
ISBN 978-0-88982-241-2.

Subject Heading:
Eagles-Juvenile fiction.
Fear-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 1-4 / Ages 6-9.

Review by Alison Mews.

**** /4



A few days later, when Elf opened his eyes and saw that he could see, he blinked twice, let out a squawk and quickly shut his eyes as tight as an oyster. He took a deep breath, then inched closer to the edge of the nest to get a better view. Slowly he opened his right eye and peeked out beyond the weave of sticks and twigs and moss.

This couldn’t be!

He was in a tree! High off the ground! His parents had built a nest at the very top of a tree! Well, almost at the very top, near where the last branches forked out below a snag that pierced the sky like a giant spear.

Why, why had they built so high?

Elf is an unusual Bald Eagle in that he is afraid of heights. In fact, from the moment he chips through his egg, he is anxious about everything he encounters. When his older sister eagerly launches into her first flight, Elf is certain she is leaping to her death below. And when it’s time for his inaugural flight, Elf is too fearful to voluntarily leave his comfy nest - despite loving support from his parents and jeering encouragement from his now fledgling sister. It’s not until he accidentally falls out of the nest and responds to his parents’ desperate screams that he finally masters both flight and his fears. In so doing, he quickly discovers the pure joy of “wheeling and soaring in the blue, blue sky.”

    Like Elf, author Ron Smith has a fear of heights and knows first-hand how scary it feels and how hard it is to overcome such fears. He seamlessly combines natural history and expressive language to weave Elf’s story. He uses similes galore to help children grasp the concepts. Consequently, the newborn chick’s legs were as wobbly “as if he were trying to stand on a pool of jellyfish” and “everything he looked at was as fuzzy as a pussy willow.” That Elf didn’t suddenly become brave and begin flying on his own is appropriate but that he learned to relax and even enjoy flying once he experienced some success is an excellent message to convey to apprehensive children.

     internal artIllustrator Ruth Campbell draws on her own experience of working with fledgling birds at a wildlife rescue. She depicts the natural changes in Elf’s growth from a fluffy white newborn to a dull brown fledgling who has yet to obtain the characteristic white head and tail feathers of his Bald Eagle parents. The habitat of the eagles’ nest is authentically portrayed as well. But, most importantly, Campbell has created an appealing wide-eyed chick with fearful expressions that will tug at little heart-strings. Her final picture of Elf as a confident fledgling observing a glorious dawn sky emphasizes the contrast between satisfaction that mastering one’s fears brings along with promises of a brighter future.

     Children naturally respond to young animals, and this story of a timid bird who literally learns to fly may help them face their own fears and inspire them to take those first steps towards independence.

Highly Recommended.

Alison Mews is the Coordinator of the Curriculum Materials Centre in the Faculty of Education, the Memorial University of NL in St. John’s, NL.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.