Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Module 6: Crow Call
I love Lois Lowry.  The Giver and Number the Stars were two of the first more serious books I dove into as a kid.  Fun Lois Lowry fact #1: did you know that she took the photos that appear on the covers of those two books? (Random House Audio, n.d.).  Not only can her stories haunt you, but her photos can, too.  And, apparently, so can her picture books.  Now, granted, she didn't illustrate Crow Call but nonetheless, the book is hauntingly evocative of its theme, and as the summer air slowly changes to crisp autumn, I felt like I really connected with this book's look and feel.

Lois Lowry fun fact #2: The protagonist, Lizzie, in her oversized flannel shirt was illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline based on a photo of Lowry at Liz's age in the same shirt (Lowry, n.d.).


Now, on to Lizzie herself (beyond the oversized flannel).  Lizzie is going on a walk with her father after they've not seen each other for a long time since he's been away during World War II.  Now that they have reunited however, things are not quite the same, and Lizzie isn't sure how to feel.  She repeats his name to herself, to try to get things to sound right.  Slowly father and daughter re-connect through their walk to get rid of crows that are hurting a harvest, and their relationship is strengthened.


I am absolutely in love with the subtle yet strong connection between the tone of the piece and the tone of the artwork in Crow Call.  Not only does the story realistically show that a military return may not be a seamless integration back into society or even one's own family, but it shows that re-integration and re-establishing of a relationship for the child.  The chilly November feel of the book made me feel as though leaves were actually crunching as I turned pages.  There is a distance that can be felt through the character's placement on the page and the crows that fly in moody black swirls.  The cold weather feel (but not the traditional pure white snow chilly feeling -- rather a moodier muted dreary autumn cold that's more bitter and less cheerful) absolutely matches the story.


"Beautifully written, [Crow Call] reads much like a traditional short story. Lowry’s narrative, dense with sensory details, is based on her own life’s events. Fittingly, Ibatoulline’s muted, earth-toned palette is reminiscent of vintage, faded photographs. At times, the characters in the photorealistic illustrations are floating in the uncanny valley, separated from their environment. But in other instances, the details of his renderings gracefully capture a moment in time that was lost" (Kirkus, para. 1).

"The pages reverberate with images of crows 'dripping and soaring, landing speculatively, lurching from the limbs in afterthought and then settling again with resolute and disgruntled shrieks.' The 'photographs' are real-life portraits, but depict the world with an ideological baggage. The imagery enters the ritualistic and ceremonial elements of theatricality and dramatic scale into the narrative text. Both elements are not separate, but interact with each other, creating one meaning" (Gorlée, pg. 27).

As for the story itself, Gorlée explains that "In Crow Call, the father is not deaf to Liz's grief and her silence. Since he is both a real and mythological hunter, the hunting adventure cultivates their involvement to change the soldier's absence from home to his return as a "real" father.

Crow Call recalls the hunting episodes in the traditional fairy tales Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White. But here, hunting is not understood as chasing and killing of animals but symbolizes a life close to nature and animals. To transform and reconcile their wounded selves, father and daughter share the meaning of common symbols—such as the oversized tartan shirt, the cherry pie, the gun, the trees, and the flocks of crows. The "sacred" flow of the objects of desire cures them from "badness" and gives a warm emotional attachment" (Gorlée, pg. 27). Finally, "The pleasures and terrors of Crow Call, retuming home after a hunting magic, is an echo from the past, but at the same time, the fairy tale is also the vigorous voice of the present: a reflection on families with soldiers retuming from wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other war zones. This picture book is a careful and tender book for all ages, enlightening, not a banal hunting expedition but a father and a daughter confronting the chaos and dissolutions of their life into the possibility of love" (Gorlée, pg. 27).


While the book is set in 1945, it absolutely can be useful for children with military parents today (as Gorlée affirmed).  The father-daughter aspect of the story is touching, and I liked that even though the protagonist is a girl, the story isn't meant to be a "girl" story in the stereotypical way -- it's not all pink and frilly, it doesn't scream "sparkle", and it seems to have a very positive view of girls not wanting to be "girly":

My father had bought the shirt for me.  In town to buy groceries, he had noticed my hesitating in front of Kronenberg's window.  The plaid hunting shirts had been in the store window for a month -- the popular red-and-black and green-and-black ones toward the front, clothing mannequins holding duck decoys; but my shirt, the rainbow plaid, hung separately on a wooden hanger toward the back of the display.  I had lingered in front of Kronenberg's window every chance I had since the hunting shirts had appeared.

My sister had rolled her eyes in disdain.  "Daddy," she pointed out to him as we entered Kronenberg's, "that's a man's shirt."

The salesman had smiled and said dubiously, "I don't quite think..."


My father orders coffee for himself.  The waitress asks, "What about your boy? What does he want?"

My father winks at me, and I hope that my pigtails will stay hidden inside the plaid wool collar. 

There isn't any indication really that Liz wishes she were a boy, neither does she wish specifically not to be a girl.  Her father doesn't indicate a wish for a boy instead, and there's a quiet rebuke of the sister who frowns on the shirt.  Their relationship, while awkward, tentative, is sweet, and the fact that he's taking his daughter crow hunting is not seen as some weirdness, something girls don't do.  It's a good candidate for a collection of books with female protagonists that aren't actively tagged as simply "tomboys" or "one of the boys" but also aren't in line with the current pink-ness of everything female.

Its chilly November feel makes it an excellent candidate for a cold weather storytime book that isn't about snow or directly about cold, and it could be used in discussions about how the tone and mood of a story can be invoked through the illustrations, in that "[t]he combination of the figure-ground relationship with the concept of picture space and expression allows the tension created between father and daughter to be examined. The diagonal space between the two characters, with an imposing vertical tree spread across the gutter of the spread contributes to the danger and dynamism of the image" (Lareau, para. 2) (see photo below).

Its uses can really be for any parent-child relationship.  As Lowry points out on the last page of the book, "The details of this story are true.  They happened in 1945, to me and my father.  But parents and children groping toward understanding each other -- that happens to everyone.  And so this story is not really just my story, but everyone's" (Lowry, 2009).


Art that reminds me of Crow Call (click caption links to go to artist/print purchase pages):
northern sky by Emily Sams
Four Black Birds by Neus Manteiga


Gorlée, D. L. (2010). Homecoming. American Book Review, 31(6), 26-27. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Kirkus Reviews (2009). Crow call. Retrieved September 13, 2011 from

Lareau, K. (2010). Diagonal tension and readability. Retrieved September 13, 2011 from

Lowry, L. (2009) Crow call. Singapore: Scholastic Press

Lowry, L. (n.d.) Books -- crow call.  Retrieved September 13, 2011 from

Manteiga, N. (November 2008). Four black birds.  Retrieved September 13, 2011 from

Random House Audio (n.d.) Lois lowry. Retrieved September 13, 2011 from

Sams, E. (n.d.) northern sky. Retrieved September 13, 2011 from

*Yes, I jumped to Module 6 -- only because I just read Crow Call and it's faster than some of the other books for the earlier modules, so I wanted to get this out quickly!

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