Written by Thomas E. Sniegoski
Published by Yearling
I’m a firm believer in the whole “start ‘em young” mentality. Not all kids are able to deal with horror or monsters from their very first breaths, I know I sure couldn’t, but I think if they’re exposed to lighter fare at just the right age, they can become fans for life.
That’s why it makes sense to look at books like Billy Hooten: Owlboy; it matches just the right amount of innocence and adult awareness, not to mention monsters galore, that any kid who picks it up will feel smarter for having read it and hopefully develop a taste for the life’s blood that pumps through this site.
Sniegoski is a local New England author who’s frequently collaborated with Christopher Golden, but is known for his solo work as well. Most notably is The Fallen, which was recently turned into a series of movies on ABC Family. It doesn’t hurt that for Billy Hooten: Owlboy he was able to enlist the considerable talents of The Goon artist Eric Powell to bring his creation, and the beasts he fights on a nightly basis, to illustrated life.
Aimed for those in grades 3-6, Billy Hooten: Owlboy follows the evolution of the title character from a comic book nerd who is constantly picked on and only hangs out with fellow nerds when he’s at school, to a full-fledged, crime fighting superhero who develops a true belief in himself and doing what’s right. Definitely the kind of lesson more kids should be paying attention to.
Billy’s parents own a piece of land immediately adjacent to a very big cemetery. Instead of being freaked by it, Billy spends most of his time playing there because it’s quiet and no one bothers him. And hey, cemeteries are just cool, right? One day when walking past a family crypt he hears a scuffle from inside. Curiosity and the beginnings of heroic valor get the best of him and he goes to investigate, discovering a small goblin being throttled by a massive pig-like creature.
Saving him through his quick thinking, Archebold, the goblin, informs Billy that he is the new incarnation of Owlboy, a hero to the people of Monstros City for years before he disappeared quite suddenly a few decades ago. Billy’s got all the right traits that Owlboy needs and soon finds that when he’s in the underground city of Monstros, populated by all manner of monsters, he’s also got the super powers necessary to kick evil’s ass. Or butt, as it apropos.
Of course he wonders if maybe its not all in his head goes through the usual periods of self-doubt and before finally embracing his destiny and becoming the Owlboy Archebold always knew he was. He has one good fight with the forces of evil in Monstros City that solidifies his position as their hero returned, and the book concludes very open-ended for endless sequels; one of which, Owlboy: The Girl With the Destructo Touch was released the same day as the first.
Powell’s illustrations really give the book a great feel. Though his style is too cartoony for some, it works perfectly in this book to convey the spirit and light-heartedness of the story and the character. Plus it’s just cool seeing some of the bizarre monsters Sniegoski comes up with translated to actual creatures via Powell’s talents.
Billy Hooten: Owlboy is one of those books that horror fans should get for their kids, plain and simple. There are monsters, clear definitions of good and evil, and an overall sense of fun that won’t be found later in life but could be just enough to get kids loving monsters and wanting more and more of them. And thus a horror fan can be born!
3 1/2 out of 5
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