As I explained in this post, I am having great fun hosting a young readers book club at my local Christian book store, Cathedral Book and Gift. The second book in our middle grade reader series was The Bark of the Bog Owl by Jonathan Rogers. Bark is a fantastic first book in a very worthy trilogy. We reviewed Bark here and the Wilderking Trilogy here.
Absolutely one of my favorite children’s series of all time (I really mean that), I was particularly excited about this book club. Like any great book, The Bark of the Bog Owl can be read on several levels. On the surface level, it is an exciting story about a boy and how he becomes a hero. On a didactic level, it is a pleasant exposition on friendship. On a literary level, it delights the reader with poetry, elegant prose, unexpected humor, and a nod to the really great books that came before it. On a spiritual level, the comparison to David and Goliath is impossible to miss and this reimagining tickles our moral imagination while giving us the opportunity to consider what young David must have been like behind the scenes of the great biblical drama.
The grand and substantial nature of this story makes it a natural choice for a book club but it also poses an incredible challenge to a book club leader: which direction shall we go? There is more in this one story than we could unpack in several book clubs.
Many moons ago, I fell in love with a series of 31 posts at Mt. Hope Chronicles about being Book Club Detectives. It is a fantastic, and I mean fantastic, resource. I implore you to go check it out. Really, just open that open in a new window, make a cuppa coffee or tea, and have a wonderful read. I’ll wait right here.
Theft is the most sincere form of flattery, right? I hope so. Re-reading Heidi’s posts last month, I realized that that technique would be just the thing that I needed for this book club. In fact, it is just the thing to get me through many of the upcoming book clubs as well. Flexible, thoughtful, concrete, and instructive, the story map and the Book Club Detective approach is an easy way to get the book club discussion off in a good direction. As Heidi mentions, her idea came from a brilliant book called Deconstructing Penguins (the affiliate link for that book is for Heidi’s blog – I will proudly steal her idea but I won’t steal her referral fee – 😉 ) and the story map she is using is based on a story map that Center For Lit uses in their Teaching the Classics guides. I am a Pelican member at Center For Lit and have also loved the way that they map out a story.
And so, armed with my copy of Deconstructing Penguins, inspired by Heidi and Center For Lit, and excited about Aidan, I took a stab at mapping out The Bark of the Bog Owl.
Breathing easier, because I had a plan for our discussion, I decided to play with one more idea – a Venn Diagram. The comparison between Aidan and David was too good to pass on. I wanted my book club attendees to find more reasons to love David and Aidan more by loving the other as well.
Ten kids aged between 6 and 14 showed up on our cold and rainy August day. We opened with prayer and then we launched right into a discussion about what an allegory is. Explaining that Pilgrims Progress is an allegory and that The Bark of the Bog Owl is not, we talked about what Bark was since it was so familiar to the David story. Once we settled on “re-imagining,” our juices were flowing and we were ready to treat the story as something more than just a fun adventure.
I realized that the kids might really enjoy applying this story mapping process to other books that they read. In the hopes that they will come back for more book club meetings and continue reading like book detectives, I laminated a blank story map template for them with a teaching map on the back.
For the meeting, I took each bubble and made it large enough for us to write on as the discussion evolved.
I also made snacks. I am never going to be the arts and crafts mom. I am also not the “let’s do a skit” mom. I am not even the “this is a great activity to go with the story” mom. I am the “I have a snack for that” mom. In 1 Samuel, Israel is at war with the Philistines. David’s father sends his son to the battle field with a sack filled with ten kinds of bread and ten kinds of cheese to be shared with his brothers’ part of the army. In Bark, Rogers repeats this beautiful imagery by sending Aidan to the battle with the Prythens with a sack filled with bread and cheese. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to introduce the kids to some traditional Jewish bread recipes.
I was looking for bread recipes that would be authentic and traditionally Jewish such that they might have been included in David’s bag. I was hoping to find something flexible enough that it might also have been in Aidan’s bag as well. Ultimately, inspired by traditional Nut and Date bread recipes, I created this recipe by blending several recipes. Typically, Jewish Nut and Date does not have raisins in it. I thought that by adding raisins we could make it something that Aidan would have liked too.
This photo is a bit grainy. You can download a PDF version here.
In a similar quest to find a bread that could double as being in Aidan and David’s bread, I settled on traditional Rosh Hashanah Honey Cake. The honey cake symbolizes the Jewish hope for sweet and victorious things to come. I thought that that was appropriate to this battle scene. Again, using a variety of recipes and blending them until I came up with something I liked, I created this.
Again, I think that the photo is grainy. The PDF version can be found here.
Finally, every time I talk about The Bark of the Bog Owl, I think about how those final chapters remind me of The Princess and the Goblin. I enjoyed telling the kids about that George MacDonald masterpiece that G. K. Chesterton said made all of the difference in his life. Beloved by Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and those who love them, I am hoping to journey with these kids through the goblin tunnels next month.
Book Club Resources: