The Christmas Owl by Ellen Kalish and Gideon Sterer

The Christmas Owl

Ellen Kalish & Gideon Sterer, Authors

Ramona Kaulitzki, Illustrator

Little Brown and Company, Fiction, Oct. 5, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Owl, Rockefeller Christmas Tree, Rescue center 

Opening:  “Once in a little town, in a little front yard, lived a little owl, high in the branches of a very big tree.” 


When Little Owl’s home is cut down by people saying it will make a beautiful Christmas tree, she’s not sure she wants anything to do with Christmas, whatever that means.  Hiding in its branches, the rope traps Little Owl.  The tree is loaded on a truck and she rides for hours until it reaches the Rockefeller Center.

A worker finds the owl her and calls a woman named Ellen at Ravensbeard Wildlife Center who takes Little Owl, who is hungry and dehydrated.  Ellen, whose house is merrily decorated for the holiday and filled with birds who need someone to care for them. Surrounded by kindness and helpful new friends, Little Owl begins to wonder if Christmas might not be such a bad thing after all…

Why I like this book:

A beautiful book that is based on a true story that captivated the country in November 2020. This charming story is cowritten by Ellen Kalish, caretaker of the real owl found inside the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. 

Told in the voice of Little Owl, children will enjoy hearing about his long journey on the truck to NYC, being discovered in its branches and his rehabilitation with Ellen. Ramona Kaulitzki’s illustrations are simply stunning. Just look at the cover!  They compliment the story and kids will have fun pouring over the gorgeous artwork and telling the story themselves.

There is so much compassion in this story. Make sure you check out the end pages. There is a special Note from Ellen Kalish about her work to rescue and rehabilitate her first love — birds.  There is a close up picture of the owl she named “Rocky.” On the opposite page is The Real Story of Rockefeller, with a photo of Ellen releasing Rocky back into the wild. And at the front of the book you can see a map of Rocky’s journey to NYC.

Resources:  Go for a walk in the woods with your parents and listen to all of the winter birds living there. You might just hear an owl hoot.  Visit a bird rehabilitation center near you.  Introduce your kids to the annual Christmas Bird Count December 14 – Jan. 5, 2021,  and The Great Backyard Bird Count in February. Visit the Audubon website for a list of count circles near you.  And visit the Sonoma Birding website and the eBird website to do your own bird count any day of the year and track your counts. 

Ellen Kalish is the executive director of Ravensbeard Wildlife Center, a rehabilitation and educational center that focuses on rescue and release for wild birds. She served on the board for the New York State Wildlife Rehabilitation Council and is the recipient of the William R. Ginsberg Stewardship Award from the Woodstock Land Conservancy. Ellen has released thousands of birds back into the wild, but every releas is special. She invites you to visit her online at Ravensbeard.

Gideon Sterer is the author of From Ed’s to Ned’s, Not Your Nest!, The Nigh Knights, and The Midnight Fair, among others. Gideon grew up in the woods of upstate New York, where his parents owned a little zoo i which he would run around after-hours and let the animals out. He now lives in the Hudson Valley and invites you to visit him online at his website and @gideonsterer

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.


The Carpenter’s Gift

The Carpenter’s Gift: A Christmas Tale About The Rockefeller Center Tree

David Rubel, author and Jim LaMarche, illustrator

Suitable for: Ages 5 and Up

Random House, September 2011, Fiction

Theme:  Giving, Kindness, Depression Era, Christmas Trees, Rockefeller Center

Opening:  “Nearly a lifetime had passed, but Henry could still remember what it felt like to wake up in the old shack, especially during wintertime.  In those days, the Great Depression gripped the country, and like many people, Henry’s parents were out of work.  They couldn’t afford coal for the stove or warm blankets for the beds, so young Henry usually woke up with a shiver.  But he didn’t complain, because it was nobody’s fault.  Instead, he visited warm places in his mind.” 

SynopsisHenry’s father comes up with an idea to make money the day before Christmas. He borrows a truck, and he and Henry head for a grove of spruce trees.  They cut them down and drive to New York City to sell them as Christmas trees.  They find the perfect spot near the Rockefeller construction site in Manhattan.  The workers help them unload the trees.  Before heading home, his father decides to give the last trees to Frank and his construction workers.   Frank takes the tallest tree and the men decorate it with cranberries, pinecones and tin cans — the first Rockefeller Christmas tree.  Henry makes a star out of newspaper.  Before he hangs it on a tree, Henry makes a special wish.  He takes a pine cone from the tree to remember that magical day.

On Christmas morning Henry awakens to tooting horns and trucks full of lumber.  Frank and his workers who have come to build a home for Henry’s family.  Frank hands Henry a hammer to help and to keep as a gift.   Henry is so grateful for his new home, that he decides to plant the pinecone he saved  from the tree near the new house.  Over the years Henry becomes a skilled carpenter.  The spruce tree grows very tall, and Henry grows older.  One day Henry repays the gift that grew from that special pinecone.

Why I like this book:   This is a book that can be celebrated throughout the year.  It is written by children’s historian David Rubel in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity.  Each year the Rockefeller Christmas tree is milled and donated to Habitat for Humanity, to build homes for families in needs.  There is a two-page history about the Rockefeller Christmas tree which was first erected in 1931 by construction workers.   The second page is devoted to Habitat for Humanity International which has built 400,000 homes around the world since 1976.  Jim LaMarche’s illustrations are stunning, gentle, emotional and luminous.

Activity:  Take your family to your community tree lighting ceremony.  Parents and teachers can turn this beautiful story into a tree-planting project at home and school during the year.  Links to resources:   For more books with resources please visit Perfect Picture Books.

Copyright (c) 2011,  Patricia Howe Tilton, All Rights Reserved