Elf the Eagle

Author:  Ron Smith   Copyright Date:    2007
View From the Nest
Ron Smith offers this straightforward and logical story in picture book format.   Although I found the characters a little irritating and unlikeable, their antics could appeal to the younger set.  The content meets some curriculum goals for science education in the younger years. The story could be used when learning about birds, life cycles, habitats, and personal growth.

Publisher review

Rating: #1(Highly Recommended)     #2    ✓    #3         #4 (not acceptable)

Interest Level:  Grade Picture book 1-4        Reading Level:  Grade 3-5

Curriculum Area: Science, Language Arts, Health

Theme(s) Topic(s): life cycle of birds, growing up, making decisions, being afraid

This book would be suitable for:     Lit Circles  ✓  Kit Materials ✓Read-Aloud (Gr.) 1-5

Shining Willow 2009



Filed under children's lit, library, reading

2 responses to “Elf the Eagle

  1. Ron Smith

    Hi Susan,

    Before I respond to your review of my book ELF THE EAGLE, I want to tell you how much I appreciate the work you are doing. There are too few people reading and talking about books these days, especially in the media. Thanks, then, for doing this important work. When I first read your comments I was disappointed to hear that you found the characters in my book irritating and unlikeable. Most of the people who have offered comment have been quite positive about the content and about the characters, but when I thought about your observations they did make sense. Elf is a bit neurotic and his sister is a tad nasty. We don’t learn too much about his parents but they probably appear unsympathetic. When I set out to write the book, I wanted to write a funny story about an eagle who is afraid of heights. Something simple. The idea amused me (because of my own fears) and I thought it would amuse kids. The book would be principally about fear. But as I did research about eagles I became fascinated by their world and I decided I would try to include as much scientific information in the story as possible, without losing the original idea. I decided to mirror that information in my story. Eaglets can take as long as two days to knock their way through their shell (with their egg tooth); they tend to be top-heavy when they first emerge from the egg and they do fall over; and their eyesight is very poor at birth (by the time they’re fully grown they can see 6 times better than human beings). Hence the first few images in the book. I was also fascinated by the fact that the eggs do hatch at different times, this likely a survival issue. If there is not enough food supply the older, larger bird will commit fratricide. Now I certainly didn’t want to bring this up in the story so I decided I would allude to this fact by anthropomorphizing the idea and show it as a conflict between an older, bigger sister and her younger, smaller brother. Teasing and name-calling are a part of this dynamic, a situation with which I thought a lot of kids would identify. This is one of the topics I hoped kids would discuss in response to the story. And I discovered that only about 60% of eagles survive their first flight. Elf, therefore, unkowingly has reason to be afraid. Another topic for discussion. Our fears. Adult eagles often have to tease their young out of the nest, usually done, as Elf’s mother does, with food. If the young refuse to take that first flight, not unlike the encouragement we give our young to take their first steps, one of the parents will actually knock the eaglet out of the nest with a wing. Obviously we encourage those first steps in different ways. First steps and leaving the nest, though, seemed important issues to discuss as well. The parents do try to refresh the nest with some form of vegetation, cedar sprigs in this case, and a family of birds will play flying games. On a sunny, summer afternoon, near where I live, I have witnessed this behaviour. It’s quite magical. In the raptor world, females are bigger than males. In fact, at about 12 weeks or so, young eagles are bigger than their parents, because of fat build up and inactivity. Elf would be quite a bit smaller than Edwina. Anyway, my challenge became to take all this research and condense it into a story about the first 13 weeks of an eagle’s life. As I say, I wanted to achieve a balance between an entertaining story and an accurate presentation of scientific information about these majestic birds. I was also concerned that the story be well written. Some older kids have noticed the shift in the story from obvious similes to more complex metaphors. In the end, Elf is a beautiful bird, like his sister and parents, waiting for sunrise, his life ahead of him. He will dare to do the impossible. I’ve probably overstayed my welcome but I wanted to tell you the story behind the story. I wanted to do this because you cared enough to comment. Thanks for that, Susan, you have made me think about my story anew.

  2. Hi Ron,

    Thanks for the lengthy reply. I love hearing from authors and always wonder when I say something which could be taken negatively what might happen. I want to share my opinion but I don’t want to hurt people as I know there are people behind the books. Your comments help me understand the thinking behind the story and certainly help me to understand the choices you made in the characterizations. I must admit most of the science embedded in the story is news to me. I am grateful for the time you have taken to let me know about your writing and thinking process and for your graciousness in accepting my criticism. Best wishes with your book and its possible sequels.

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