The Amazing Owl Keeper Artists

Cover illustration by Fernando Juarez

The haunting cover and illustrations for THE OWL KEEPER were created by two extremely talented artists.  I made a point of getting in touch with both of them to let them know how much I loved their artwork.

Spanish artist Fernando Juarez illustrated the cover for THE OWL KEEPER.  I instantly fell in love with the owl, she’s so luminous and magical-looking; the background of silvery moonlight, the overhanging branches and houses lend a sort of dreamy Gothic quality. Fernando lives in Madrid with his wife and children, where he’s working as art director for Ilion Animation Studios on the film “Planet 51.” His illustrations are often quirky and whimsical, as you can see on this book cover he drew for Rita Murphy’s novel “Bird.

Cover illustration by Fernando Juarez

Maggie Kneen is an architect, children’s author and children’s illustrator who grew up on the northwest coast of England.  “Art was what I did best, so that’s what I pursued,” she explains on her website, “but every opportunity to bring history and archaeology into my life has been taken or made.”

Illustration by Maggie Kneen

Her illustrations are elegant and mysterious, somehow reminiscent of illustrations in books I read as a child..  They capture perfectly the novel’s characters and spooky atmosphere!

One of Maggie’s most charming books, which she wrote and illustrated, is “Hamlet and the Tales of Sniggery Woods,” about a young pig named Hamlet, who “lived with his family in a small house, just above Molefurrow Market, between Sniggery Woods and the river.”

Illustration from "Hamlet of Sniggery Woods" by Maggie Kneen

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Magical Winter Reads

Edmund Dulac's illustration for "The Snow Queen"

“Late in the middle watch of a calm winter’s night, many years ago, a square-rigged, three-masted ship, the Sarah Casket, was making her way slowly through northern seas under a blaze of stars.”  And so begins the adventures of young Dido Twite, who is rescued from a watery grave by Captain Casket in Joan Aiken’s “Nightbirds on Nantucket.”

Here’s a list of ten magical reads for young and old, to be enjoyed by the fire on a cold winter’s night:

1.  A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

2.  The Box of Delights by John Masefield

3.  The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

4.  Northern Lights, known as The Golden Compass in North America, by Philip Pullman

5.  The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

6.   Nightbirds on Nantucket by Joan Aiken

7.  Children of Winter by Berlie Doherty

8.  The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

9.  The Navigator by Eoin McNamee

10.  Last but not least, one of my all-time favorites: The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

“It was a lady; her cloak and cap were of snow. She was tall and of slender figure, and of a dazzling whiteness. It was the Snow Queen.

“We have travelled fast,” said she; “but it is freezingly cold. Come under my bearskin.” And she put him in the sledge beside her, wrapped the fur round him, and he felt as though he were sinking in a snow-wreath.

“Are you still cold?” asked she; and then she kissed his forehead. Ah! it was colder than ice; it penetrated to his very heart..”

Ten books to read aloud:

1.  The Tomten and The Tomten and the Fox by Astrid Lindgren

2.  The Story of the Snow Children by Sibylle Von Olfers

3.  Little Snow Goose by Emily Hawkins, illustrated by Maggie Kneen

4.  Ollie’s Ski Trip by Elsa Beskow

5.  The Big Snow by Berta Hader

6.  Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

7.  The Mitten by Jan Brett

8.  The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

9.   Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton

10.  The Snowman by Raymond Briggs

Writing THE OWL KEEPER

Illustration by Maggie Kneen (from "The Owl Keeper")

Not long after 9/11, I began writing “The Owl Keeper.”  The world had changed overnight, becoming a darker, more frightening place, devoid of warmth and color, and with the darkness came a deep sorrow, a sense of lost innocence.

Also in 2001, I saw the film “The Others” – Alejandro Amenábar’s frightening ghost story which unfolds in an isolated house on the island of Jersey.  The children who live there are both fatally allergic to sunlight, which means the windows are covered with heavy curtains, and ”no door must be opened unless the one before is closed.”

That’s when Max appeared, in my mind anyway: a frail sickly boy who was scared of most things in life, both real and imagined.  Allergic to the sun, Max stayed indoors throughout the day, hiding behind closed curtains, away from the light.  The one thing he didn’t fear, however, was the night.

In mid-2002 I read an article in “The New York Times” about Camp Sundown, where campers have a rare disorder that makes them unable to tolerate ultraviolet light.  And so activities take place at night, when the children can venture safely outside.

When he was young, Max used to do brave things like go tramping through the forest with his gran after dark. He loved the stories she told him about the world before the Destruction—about nature, and books, and the silver owls. His favorite story was about the Owl Keeper.  According Gran, in times of darkness the Owl Keeper would appear to unite owls and Sages against the powers of the dark.

Night after night, I dreamed about Max, alone beneath an ancient tree, in a world with no color, no seasons.  Waiting, always waiting..

But Gran is gone now, and so are her stories of how the world used to be. Max is no longer brave. The forest is dangerous, Gran’s precious books have been destroyed, and the silver owls are extinct. At least that’s what the High Echelon says. But Max knows better.

The rise of the High Echelon was easy to imagine: an all-powerful regime that grabbed power following an environmental cataclysm (the Great Destruction), operating behind closed doors, hiring goons for their Dark Brigade, paying mad scientists to carry out deadly experiments.  Years ago I’d lived in Spain, under the Fascist dictator Francisco Franco, and I knew what it was like to glance over your shoulder in a crowded café, worried that someone might be listening.  Fear, I’d learned back then, was a powerful weapon.

Maxwell Unger has a secret. And when a mysterious girl comes to town, he might just have to start being brave again.  The time of the Owl Keeper, Gran would say, is coming soon.