If Corenwald’s terrain in The Bark of the Bog Owl by Jonathan Rogers reminded you of Southern Georgia’s wilds, that’s because the author confesses at his website (linked to above) that he drew heavily from the neck of the woods he knew rather than starting from scratch.
That theme continues with a borrowed plot, but borrowing from the bible is of course a tried and tested technique. Here, he’s taken the story of David’s boyhood triumph against Goliath and set it on an island that strongly resembles Georgia as it would have been around the time of our nation’s founding, at a similar time period in Corenwald’s history. Now, I’ll tell you right off: this doesn’t meet my expectations for fantasy, which usually involves creating a new world from scratch without worrying if it’s elements are scientifically possible but being logically consistent within it’s own rules. But let’s give credit where credit’s due: cross breeding Tom Sawyer and a bible story really isn’t such a bad thing.
Next, I’m not familiar with all the expectations for children’s literature. But I question whether it’s really permissible for the author to stop the action to explain things or to tell us something from a different character’s perspective without due notice. I would think these would be even more confusing to young readers, or at the very least these techniques slow the action more than I would think wise with impatient young readers. Some might assume younger readers require things more clearly spelled out, which could explain this, but I can’t help but suspect young readers are also sensitive about being talked down to.
Now, the book is not without it’s merits. Albeit heavily borrowed, it’s an engaging storyline with a character the target audience will relate to, and reintroduces the story of King David to a young audience in a fresh way. I’m all for retelling bible narratives in different settings than the original, and he adds his own unique spin with the feechies without losing too much of the original’s, ahem, magic. He uses Aidan’s letters effectively to carry the story forward, and his crisp, clear description brings Corenwald (and a newly settled version of southern Georgia) to life visually. For a while, it looked like he was going to leave me hanging on the fate of a particular alligator, but he eventually did get back around to that point. For the most part, he gets his theological points across without undo preaching and it should be well received by young boys.
His stated goal at his website, in so many words, was to write books that will inspire young boys so they can become god-fearing young men in accordance with the teachings of Wild at Heart and Bringing up Boys. At this, he has certainly succeeded. Though now that you know part of this is to do via fiction for young boys what Wild at Heart did for their fathers, you’ll catch the symbolism in the title faster than I did. (Spoiler for the curious: the Bark of the Bog Owl is a reference to the wild, uncivilized feechies who imitate the call of said legendary bird)