Thursday, 5 February 2015


The cover of UHU is so familiar to me. UHU is a book from my childhood, indeed a book that had survived my childhood, and a book that still sat on a book shelf in my house. I hadn't given it a lot of thought in decades. I knew it was there, that was comfort enough. Then I came across this list of 25 Classic Australian Kids Books recently. And there was UHU. I just knew that I had to read UHU again.

There were surprises right from the outset. The dedication from my cousins for my birthday in 1971.  My name written in my childhood hand on the inside dustcover. And the story, long forgotten by me. Published in 1969, UHU was the CBCA Book of the Year in 1970. It's beautiful and moving. A memoir of an owl who had too short a life in 1960s England.

Annette Macarthur-Onslow was an Australian living in a rented cottage in Gloucestershire, England when she found a baby owl fallen from his pine tree nest one spring. "A defiant white ball of fluff with enormous blackcurrant eyes and a tiny beak clicking a warning". Annette and her partner weren't planning on caring for a baby owl, they try to give him away- without success, and so begin looking after this funny little ball of fluff in their home. From the foreward:

Uhu's story was brief but devastating. He came and went, between May and September, like a feather on a puff of wind... upsetting our whole existence, grubbying the furniture, rearranging the house and temporarily banishing the cat (unlike the characters in the song, our owl and pussycat did not agree).

The cat isn't happy at all.

When we brought his box into the warmth of the house, Minnie the cat, who had ruled the roost for seventeen years, took one look, made a wry face, and went on strike. 

UHU is an often funny account of little Uhu's exploits, habits and adventures. In 1969 Uhu became a picture book, a modern Uhu would be an internet sensation, a youtube star, as he interacts with glasses, windows, curtains and befriends a monkey.

But it is all tinged with sadness, as Uhu breaks his leg twice, and their hopes of rehabilitating Uhu to the wild are dashed. .

I love the gorgeous 60s vibe

There are musings on keeping wild animals as pets.

Occasionally a whisper from the wild reached Uhu like a note on a passing wind. He might be standing at a window watching sparrows, when suddenly he would go all hawk-like and eerie. The the moment was over and he was once more the woolly, twittering infant. 

Sadly UHU seems to be out of print. But you could seek it out at your library, or second hand book store. I'm very glad to reconnect with UHU after all this time.


Sim Carter said...

That was lovely; I can imagine your feelings when you saw your 'childhood hand'. And I can certainly imagine UHU as an internet sensation, a youtube hit for sure:)

Brona said...

Bringing up baby orphan natives has become a lovely tradition for Aussie picture books. I haven't read Uhu (although I thought I had) but it reminds me of Sebastian Lives in a Hat & more recently Jeremy.