This fantasy book is the first in the "Guardians of Ga'hoole" series by Kathryn Lasky and an Apple Series book published by Scholastic, Inc.
The Capture is written for kids ages 9 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
When Soren, a young Barn Owl, is pushed from the family's nest by his brother, he's easy prey for the evil owls of St. Aegolius (St. Aggie's). They capture and take him to their "orphanage," where young owls are brainwashed through overexposure to moonlight and other tactics (collectively called "moonblinking"). Those in charge at St. Aggie's intend to make the orphans their slaves. Soren and an Elf Owl named Gylfie discover what the evil owls are doing. By using strategies of their own, including the retelling of legends and tales of yore, Soren and Gylfie manage to avoid being moonblinked. They want to escape the cave that houses St. Aggie's, but neither has learned to fly, and there's nowhere they can practice without being discovered.
One night, Gylfie sees an owl named Hortense stealthily passing off an owl egg that she is supposed to be hatching to eagles outside of St. Aggie's, thereby rescuing it. They realize she must have avoided the moonblinking, too, and they confront her. She admits that she's working undercover in St. Aggie's to help her owl community discover what is happening to their stolen eggs and babies. Later, evil owls kill Hortense after catching her doing this.
Soren and Gylfie become increasingly anxious to escape when they witness another aspect of moonblinking. At the evil owls' command, vampire bats crawl onto the breasts of young owls, make a tiny cut, and suck out some of the owls' blood. According to one of the owl guards, this takes away the young owls' desire to fly. Soren and Gylfie find an old owl named Grimble, who has not succumbed entirely to moonblinking. He gets them clearance into other areas of St. Aggie's and gives them brief opportunities to practice their flying. He, too, is killed in the process of helping the two young owls escape.
When Soren and Gylfie are free, they realize they still want to help stop the evil activities at St. Aggie's. They meet a Great Gray Owl named Twilight and a Burrowing Owl named Digger as they search for their families. Soren finds the nursemaid snake that lived with his family but Soren's and Gylfie's families have moved. Together, the four owls and one snake search for the legendary Great Ga'Hoole Tree. They've heard tales of noble knight owls living there. If the stories are true, they intend to find these brave owls and enlist their aid in destroying St. Aggie's.
When Soren and Gylfie see the pelletorium, where young owls must work, the narrator says if they'd known the meanings of words like heaven and hell, they would have called this place hell. Owls like Soren's parents, who lived in churches, sometimes owned books of psalms.
Hortense is a small owl, without some of the capabilities of other owls in her family, who poses as a moonblinked baby owl to help save the eggs stolen by the leaders at St. Aggie's. She does this because she wants to use her limitations for a noble purpose rather than live a life where people feel sorry for and must take care of her. The evil owls, including Skench, Spoorn, Jatt and Jutt, steal and brainwash young owls and make them work at St. Aggie's. Grimble encourages the young owls to fly and believe in themselves.
Other Belief Systems
Soren wonders if the evil owls are not owls at all, but some kind of demon spirits in disguise. As Grimble dies, he says an ancient owl prayer in which he claims he's redeemed himself by helping young owls fly. He also says that owls who believe in themselves will fly. The evil owls harvest flecks of a mysterious mineral that seems to give some owls unusual powers.
Characters frequently use phrases such as Great Glaux, which Soren indicates is swearing. Glaux was the most ancient order of owls from which all owls descended. Soren and Gylfie use the term racdrops several times (short for raccoon droppings), which is one of the dirtiest words an owl can use. Twilight tells an enemy he's going to send him straight to h---.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Why do the owls at St. Aggie's forbid asking questions?
What negative results do they say questioning causes?
Have you ever heard anyone suggest that asking too many questions would distract you from finding the truth?
Did you stop asking questions?
How did it make you feel?
What would happen if people weren't allowed to ask questions?
- What is moonblinking?
What are some of the techniques the leaders at St. Aggie's use to confuse and brainwash the young owls?
Why do they do it?
How does moonblinking erase individuality?
Do you see examples of "moonblinking" and its consequences in your school or your country? Explain your answer.
How can you, like the young owls, stay "right side up in an upside-down world"?
- How do Soren and Gylfie distract each other to keep from getting moonblinked?
Why is it powerful to hear and repeat stories from the past?
How do these tales teach and encourage us?
Do you agree with Soren's dad, that sometimes even legends that aren't true can make us become better people? Give an example.
What stories from your ancestors, American history, the Bible or other sources have inspired you? Explain.
- Why does Grimble continually stress that the young owls must believe if they want to fly?
Why is it important to approach life's challenges confidently?
In what or in whom do you believe that gives you strength and assurance?
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