“The details of this story are true,” Newberry-winning author Lois Lowry writes of her beautiful father-daughter story Crow Call. “But parents and children groping toward understanding each other–that happens to everyone. And so this story is not really just my story, but everyone’s.”
It is indeed. Lowry’s Crow Call is a masterful evocation of the helplessness of childhood, the longing to know one’s father and the fear of letting him down. It is a subtle portrayal of fatherhood’s tender manliness at its best. It’s a story about loving and listening to the other, a tale of a father’s gentle self-denial for the love for his daughter. It is a portrait of true masculinity.
Crow Call lets us feel the edge of mystery from the moment we open its pages to find an empty bed next to another in which a girl is still asleep. The empty bed belongs to Liz, the narrator, who explains that while her older sister sleeps, she’s already in the car sitting next to “the stranger who is my father.”
She is speaking of her father’s return from World War II in 1945. Bagram Ibatoulline’s illustrations bring the era to life in soft, sepia-infused color. Father and daughter are first shown, stiff and uncertain, as they gaze through the windshield of the car that will take them to a diner for breakfast and then to their real destination: a November frost-tinged field where father and daughter will go hunting for crows.
Liz lets us in on her inner conflict. Her dad’s been gone so long he feels like a stranger. It seems strange to say his name: Daddy. And there’s a word that’s been scaring her, even though she wants to be with him: hunter. Timid and shy, she struggles to tell him in subtle clues: (“It’s too bad the crows eat the crops.” “Maybe they have babies.”) Her dad responds reflectively, but we can’t tell whether her message is getting through.
Lowry reveals her father’s character through his actions. She’s wearing a man’s hunting shirt that comes down to her knees, its collar hiding her braids and making her look like a boy. Why? Because she had wanted that rainbow plaid shirt from moment she’d first seen it in the window of Kronenberg’s store. Despite the clerk’s dubious smile and her sister’s protest (“Daddy, that’s a man’s shirt!”), her dad cheerfully complies with her whim, reframing the purchase as practical. “You will never ever outgrow this shirt!” he says as the clerk, eyebrows raised, wraps the oversized garment in brown paper.
When Liz can’t decide what to choose off the diner’s menu, her dad orders two pieces of cherry pie (her favorite thing to eat in the whole world) for breakfast, and they joke in the car winding down the Pennsylvania countryside.
Liz fingers the crow call in her pocket as she and her dad, rifle slung over his shoulder, walk along a path lined with barren trees. When she asks him if he was ever scared in the war he is forthright. “Yes, I was scared.”
We share the girl’s uneasy feeling, but we can see that Liz is in the company of a good man. We suspect he won’t make her do anything she doesn’t want to, if only she has the courage to reveal her heart to him.
Crow Call implicitly offers a beautiful message for men of our time. Be worthy of a child’s trust. And a worthy protector of a woman’s vulnerablity.
I don’t wish to spoil the ending of a book that gets my heart every single time I read it. I’ve shared it with children for many years and find kids from 7 to 9 years old most able of understanding its message, though younger ones, too, are captivated by the unfolding mystery and resonate with the child’s fear of disappointing her dad.
Like Lowry, I was raised by a good man who loved to hunt, and like her, I would have done pretty much anything that meant I could spend time with him. (I tried and failed at hunting, fishing and sports before landing on books and theology as another pathway to his mysterious masculine heart.)
Crow Call’s hero is a manly man, a model for young dads who are sometimes are told that the way to please your daughter is to let her paint your toenails or wear a tutu to her birthday party. (Which can be fun and charming if a guy has a whimsical side and can pull it off, but that’s beside the point.) Being yourself with love is enough.
Crow Call opens the opportunity to let little girls know they must have the courage to tell a man what they really need, rather than leaving him to guess and perhaps hurt her in the process. Crow Call can help girls recognize a good man by his ability to respect her wishes and place her needs above his own.
And this beautiful little book (with tremendous appeal for adults with fond memories of their fathers) can help us all wonder together whether we have to like the same things in order to love each other. In this, many questions of generational differences and personal taste may bring themselves forward for discussion.
Crow Call is a wonderful story, perfect for Father’s Day. It’s a story worth sharing with anyone you love.
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