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  • Dinda L. Gorlée (bio)
Crow Call. Lois Lowry. Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Scholastic Press. 32 pages; cloth, $16.99.

This picture book for children and adults—from eight to eighty years—is the story of the author's experience when she was a young girl growing up. Crow Call is a modern fairy tale: the old story did not come from a far-off land or a faraway kingdom, but is transposed to the Pennsylvania farmlands. The story follows the re-encounter of a father and his daughter and reflects the inner life of the child and her relationship with the father. Daddy has come back from a war zone (the Second World War). On a cold November morning in 1945, he invites young Lizzie to a hunting expedition, a memorable flight to the wilderness, away from home. The psychological troubles of the soldier, a "stranger" returning from combat in Europe, and the shy and frightened look on the face of his daughter are brought together on this special day. Lizzie's "art" of the whistling signal calls the crows circling overhead, and the vivid images of the magic birds, screaming with harsh voices, reunites the two again into the family bond. And as far as we know, they lived happily together forever after.

The fairy tale symbolizes the feelings of naive simplicity of a single person and the togetherness [End Page 26] of family members. They are together and talk but have no conversation and are not at ease. To change parental love gone awry, the parent listens to his daughter seriously in order to change the feeling of sadness into love. 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.

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Detail from cover

The flow of the illustrations throughout the book by the Russian artist Bagram Ibatoulline embroiders the human and supernatural turning points with real-photographic as well as unreal-mythical images. Young readers or listeners cannot or can hardly read, and attend the narrative text through seeing what the pictorial images mean. The illustrations recreate the tension and the solution of the narrative text: alarmed by the strangeness of the father figure, then he surprises his "hunting companion" with a breakfast of three pieces of cherry pie. He becomes a "hunter" specializing in animal calls, but he has "a condescending, poised, giraffe look on his face." The crow call together turns to a superhuman experience. 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.

The pleasures and terrors of Crow Call, returning 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 returning 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.

Dinda L...


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pp. 26-27
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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