Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - Whoo-Ku Haiku - 3.11.2020

Wednesdays I join Alyson Beecher from kidlitfrenzy and other
#kidlit bloggers to share wonderful nonfiction picture books.
The intention of today's blog post is to give professionals that work in the
education field new nonfiction reading material and ideas to use 
with students to promote a love of reading nonfiction materials.

I'm excited to share with you the new book by Maria Gianferrari Whoo-Ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story.  You may be familiar with Maria's other animal books - Coyote Moon and Hawk Rising.  We use both titles every year for read alouds as part of our PBL Woodland Days.  Kids love the narrative stories and they hold their breath in anticipation to see what will happen with the animals.  I am so excited because we are celebrating another animal book - returning to the great raptors - Maria brings us a story of the great Horned Owl!

Whoo-Ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story
written by Maria Gianferrari
illustrated by Jonathan Voss
published by G.P. Putnam's Sons

Goodreads Summary
Stunning illustrations and gorgeous haikus lead young readers through the dramatic life cycle of one of America's most beloved wild animals.

Pip. Pip. Pip. Poking
A hole. Cracking. Cracking. Out
Pecks the white owlet.

Watch as a pair of great horned owlets peep and squeak in their feathered nest. Mama and Papa hunt for food and fend off predators while the chicks grow strong enough to hop and flap between the branches of their tree, then leap and fly away, ready to explore the wild world around them.

In this thrilling nonfiction picture book, a combination of haiku and dazzling illustration shows readers the fierce majesty of one of North America's most ubiquitous wild animals.


One of my favorite things about Maria's stories is the way she brings the life cycle alive for young readers.  Weaving in information about predators and prey, the way the animals eats, sleeps, and lives, and the dangers that surround it, readers truly get a view of the animal's life.  
Maria brings this book to life with lively verbs and descriptions.  With verbs like "sneaking-slinking", "bobs and springs", and "huddles-cuddles" and descriptions like "umbrella of wings", "talons nick", and "twilight retreats", readers will leave this book with vivid images in their heads!
I have read through this book several times and am just amazed by the use of haikus to tell the story.  What a wonderful choice since this book is absolutely embedded in nature!

Maria generously agreed to answer some questions about her writing for this book:

1.  How do you move from your research notes to the writing of your story?

I usually take notes by hand, and then type them out with assorted information and links. Then I print out my notes and highlight them, looking for interesting information and patterns. After that, I do some focused freewriting to explore ideas about things like voice and text structure. The fun part is that some of the stuff which I love, but don’t really have room for in the main text based on the focus, can end up as “cool facts” in the backmatter. I love reading (and writing) backmatter.

2.  How do you decide what writing style to use?  And how did this one become a haiku?

It depends on the topic. If it’s more of a concept book and a work of expository nonfiction, then I tend to choose a more lively humorous voice like I did in my books, Terrific Tongues and Play Like an Animal. The voice in my narrative nonfiction tends to be more lyrical, like in Whoo-Ku Haiku, Coyote Moon and Hawk Rising.

Back when my daughter was in elementary school, we would “write” haikus on drives to her Nonna’s house. She actually came up with this clever title, and even wrote her own Whoo-Ku book back in third grade as a present for me. It’s one I’ll always treasure. Many years later I decided to try and write my own story about a Great horned owl family in haiku, and Whoo-Ku Haiku was born.

3.  How did this story come to you?

First, I did research on Great horned owls and made a list of interesting things unique to them. Part of my research involves watching videos. I love the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website and their webcams and watched a nesting pair of Great horned owls in Savannah, Georgia. They’re so fun to watch! You can see the owls in their archived files. The nest has since been taken over ospreys, another kind of raptor.

Then I tried to think of a compelling storyline, one different from my other predator books, so this became more of a story about the owlets rather than their parents. It’s a bit of a homage to one of my favorite books, Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen, and Owl Babies, by Martin Waddell, which my daughter loved as a toddler.

4.  I loved seeing Jonathan Voss' illustrations brought your words to life!  I'm assuming an author creates images in their head during the creating process.  How did Jonathan Voss' illustrations compare to your mental images?

I definitely had realistic images of the owls in mind as I wrote, but Jonathan’s art just blew me away—it’s so gorgeous, full of intricate detail and dramatic storytelling. I just love it! I also like that he used insets add layers to the visual storytelling. It also heightened the dramatic tension. It’s so fun to be a picture book author and to see what magic the illustrator makes with our words! I feel so grateful and lucky to be able to do what I love.

5.  Tell us more about how you became a birder!

I was (and still am) a shy girl who has always loved animals of all kinds. I loved playing outside in nature, just quietly observing birds—it’s so meditative! It wasn’t until 7th grade science class that I really became more fascinated with birds all because of my teacher, Mr. LeFebvre. He introduced us Audubon and the bird count. We began recording our sightings at the beginning of each class—it was so much fun. I remember how thrilling it was when I spotted my first ring-necked pheasant in our snowy NH backyard! I’ve been a bird nerd ever since!

Thank you to Maria for stopping by and chatting with us!  I hope you find a copy of Whoo-Ku Haiku for your library!

More about Maria Gianferrari:

WHOO’s Maria Gianferrari? She’s a self-proclaimed bird nerd with a special fondness for raptors. Her love affair with birds began in 7th grade science class when her teacher, Mr. Lefebvre, initiated a bird count. While walking in her neighborhood, Maria’s always on the look-out for all kinds of birds, and she loves searching winter tree tops for nests in her northern Virginia neighborhood where she lives with her German-scientist husband and German speaking daughter. This is her first book with GP Putnam’s Sons. She’s also the author of another bird book, Hawk Rising. To learn more about Maria, please visit her website:

Edited on March 15th:

Maria has generously donated a copy of Whoo-Ku Haiku for a giveaway!  And with so many schools closed right now, this is perfect timing!  Please fill out the form and I will choose a winner on Friday, March 20th.  US residents only.  Good luck!


  1. I'm looking forward to this new "Whoo-Ku" book and enjoyed the interview, too, Michelle. I did bird counts with students. It is a wonderful way to get them interested in birds, maybe especially today with so many disappearing! Thanks!

    1. The more kids we can get interested in birds, the better!! Thanks for doing bird counts with your students, Linda!

    2. I imagine anyone can contact local bird groups and Audubon to join in.

  2. Gorgeous and beautiful in so many ways!

  3. Thanks so much, Michele! When you hsve a free moment,could you add in the giveaway for US residents? Thank you!!