The Owly comics are deceptively simple tales of a sweet little owl and his forest friends, told without words but with plenty of emotion and gesture. This volume, which comprises two fairly long stories, is the first book in the series.
In the first story, Owly rescues a worm who nearly drowns in a sudden rainstorm. He picks up the unconscious worm with a leaf, brings him home, and sits up all night with him. The next day, they journey to the worm’s home, where he has a joyful reunion with his parents. Then Owly takes his leave, tears in his eyes over the loss of his new friend—but a few minutes later, the little worm joins him, having decided to make Owly’s home his home as well.
The second story is a really charming tale of friendship mingled with a bit of environmental education. Some hummingbirds move into the neighborhood, and Owly and Wormy plant flowers so they can have food. When one of the hummingbirds is captured and put in a cage, Owly and Wormy rescue it. As the seasons turn, though, the birds get cold and the flowers start to die. Owly tries to move everyone inside and even makes little scarves for the birds, but eventually Wormy points out that his house is just becoming another cage for them. After a tearful goodbye, the hummingbirds fly south, but Owly is cheered by the news that they will be back the following spring—as indeed they are.
Both stories have simple morals. In the first, the worms (and the other birds) are scared of Owly (presumably because he is a bird of prey), but those who take the time to get to know him come to like him. In the second, Owly learns that true friendship means letting the hummingbirds go, even though that makes him sad. Runton’s creatures are cute, but his depictions of their emotions can be quite powerful.
Runton’s simple brush-and-ink art belies the sophistication of his stories. Each has a few simple arcs—making new friends, helping a friend in danger—yet there is quite a bit of information and subtlety in each one, and the drawings are filled with charming details. Owly and his friends speak in rebuses, so even the smallest child can “read” the stories (except for some encyclopedia information about plants and birds in the second story). Yet the richness of these stories makes them entertaining for grownups as well, and the format allows an adult to engage the child rather than simply reading the story aloud.