Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise

Back in September, I led a workshop called “Writing the Rollicking Read-Aloud” at the Carolinas SCBWI conference. To prepare for it, I brought home stacks of recent-ish picture books, trying to figure out which ones to feature in my presentation. Although half the two-hour session focused on writing in rhyme, I wanted a non-rhyming picture book to kick things off.

Which did I choose?

Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Jean Jullien. (Remember how last month I mentioned I love Sean Taylor’s books? I wasn’t kidding.)

What makes this book a great read-aloud? Let me count the ways:

(1) A good story. Hoot Owl is hungry. But he doesn’t just pounce on his prey. Oh, no. He disguises himself first—as a carrot to catch a rabbit, as a mother sheep to catch a lamb, and as a bird bath to catch a pigeon.

Each time, his prey escapes (fortunately—it would make for a rather grisly picture book otherwise!). Finally, he spies a pizza in a restaurant. He disguises himself as a waiter, and—at last—success!

(2) Repetition. The pattern of the book—spotting the prey, putting on a disguise, failing or succeeding—is repeated four times. This pattern is reinforced by a catchy refrain that invites kids to join in:

(3) Suspense. The page turns work as mini-cliffhangers, giving kids the chance to predict what will happen. What disguise will Hoot Owl use to fool his prey? (page turn) Will it work? (page turn)

(4)  Humor.  I love Hoot Owl’s mock-serious voice and the silliness of his disguises. Jean Jullien’s simple and boldly colored illustrations add to the quirky humor.

(5) Language. In addition to the musical refrain above, there’s some great language, including vivid similes like this one:

And these:

“I swoop through the bleak blackness like a wolf in the air.”

“The shadowy night stretches away forever, as black as burnt toast.”

“My eyes glitter like sardines.”

It’s not surprising that Sean is a poet—excellent training for writing picture books, as he notes in this terrific interview on Elizabeth Dulemba’s blog: “Writing poetry taught me to work at language until it is, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge put it, ‘the best words in the best order.’”

Which is exactly what we’re all trying to do here, right?

Thanks for reading!



Congrats to Annette Pimentel and Mary York, the winners of last month’s giveaway.  A Cozy Good Night will be on its way toward each of you this week!

Linda Ashman

Linda Ashman is the author of more than 45 picture books, as well as The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, a how-to guide for picture book writers. Her books have been included on the ‘best of the year’ lists of The New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, the American Library Association, the Children’s Book Council, and The New York Public Library, among others, and have been translated into many languages.


  1. Thanks for sharing! Looks very cute, and I like his poetical elements!

  2. Can’t wait to check out this book. Thanks for sharing it with us, Linda!

  3. Can’t wait to get my hands on this book! Thanks!

  4. This book looks so great–how have I not read it? I can’t wait.

  5. Wonderfully illuminating. Thanks for the great lesson.

  6. Oh, cute! I love it! Can’t wait to read it!

  7. I can see why kids would love this book – so fun and entertaining! I must find it! Thanks for sharing it.

  8. It sounds like a perfect read aloud. Can’t wait to read it. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Looking forward to reading this!

  10. Thank you, Linda. “The best words in the best order.” Why is that so hard????

  11. I’ll be looking for this book. Sounds like a perfect read-aloud!


    Sean’s book looks perfectly suited to eager little readers!

    So many books to get. So little time . . .

    • Oh, I know, Mary. I’ve got so many (adult) books from the library at the moment–I don’t know when I’ll get to them all. And I mailed your book today, so keep an eye out! 🙂

  13. What a great choice for your workshop. Thanks for taking us through it point by point.

  14. Linda, it was so good to see you in Charlotte, but I missed your workshop, so it’s great to have a little lesson here. Thank you.

  15. So great to see you too, Vijaya! Thanks for reading!

  16. This sounds hilarious!! And I love the illustrations too!
    I can’t wait to get my hands on this book!

  17. Eyes that glitter like sardines. Love it!

  18. Love. This. Voice! And that the word choice is challenging and thought-provoking. Great mentor text.

  19. I loved when you mentioned this book in your presentation, and I love this refresher. This book is wonderful in So Many Ways. 🙂

  20. Lyrical language and fun illustrations, yes, but what I liked best was Hoot Owl’s child- like bravado. Thanks for sharing, Linda.

  21. Can’t wait to check it out!

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