But all of this is about to change. Rozbell, the newly crowned king of the Owl Parliament, is dealing with a famine on the mainland of Tytonia—and he has long had his scheming eyes on the small colony to the north. Now Neversink's independence hangs in the balance. An insurgence of owls will inevitably destroy life as the auks know it—unless Lockley can do something about it.
Barry Wolverton's debut is an epic tale of some very un-epic birds, a fast-paced and funny story of survival, friendship, and fish.
A Puffin, a Walrus, & a Hummingbird Walking into a...
Neversink by Barry Wolverton is the story of Lockley J. Puffin and what happens after a nasty little owl goes on a power trip and breaks the peace between Tytonia and the auks' home island of Neversink. The story is set far in the past, as described by the following passage:
--The continents had formed and separated but were covered with forests. The dinosaurs were long gone. Humans did not yet roam the earth, much less rule it. (Neversink, pg 2)--
Animals communicated... Okay, talked, to one another, but the book centers on the birds. The peace between Neversink and Tytonia is uneasy, with grudges still held from the Cod Wars of a previous generation. When Rozbell the pygmy owl schemes his way into becoming king of the owls, he does away with that peace and subjugates the auks of Neversink.
What initially drew me to Neversink was Sam Nielson's beautiful cover. (I don't think it can be said enough how important it is to have a cover that will pull readers to a book.) Luckily for readers, there are plenty of black and white illustrations by Nielson throughout the book. They strengthen the story by giving the children (and adults) who read it a good visualization of the various animals. There is a handy guide at the beginning of the novel that shows an illustration of each of the birds mentioned in Neversink, as well as a brief description of them. I, personally, cannot tell any owls apart except for the snowy owl and was completely at a loss to what an auk looked like, so it was helpful to me. A handy map of Neversink and the surrounding area is also included in the book.
As for the story itself in Neversink, I am a bit torn. I learned new things about the birds, the Artic, and the ocean, but I think all of this information took away from the story for me. There was no information dumping, so to speak, but I still had trouble getting into it. However, the mythology Wolverton created for the creatures was fascinating and imaginative.
The characters themselves were cute, and their interactions were fun to read. Lockley was a bird torn between not making waves (a motto of Neversink's birds that causes them a lot of problems in Neversink) and doing what was right. He looked to his friends, Egbert the Walrus and Ruby the Hummingbird, and the Great Auk for advice and assistance when he had a problem. Egbert is an intelligent, and a little uppity, walrus who wants to write the history of Neversink and its stories. Ruby is a hilarious little bird who migrates to Neversink each year, and makes pop culture metaphors and references that no one understands. (This was set thousands of years ago, remember?) My favorite character would have to be Lucy, Lockley's wife. She is pregnant with their egg and is not one to let the owls completely take advantage of her. Although her cooking may have been a catalyst for Rozbell's actions, her own actions serve as a catalyst later in the book.
Neversink is a novel about standing up for what is right, conservation, and the importance of friendship. This is a book that will appeal to both boys and girls who at a "middle grade" age. Young readers will learn about birds, their behavior, and environment, while enjoying the antics of the characters and a unique story.
If Only I Was Dr. Dolittle
Slightly older readers have all seen one too many talking My Little Pony or nonsensical “bow wow” from Blue via Blue’s Clues to become wary of any sort of media featuring talking animals. Sometimes they’re just too dang annoying or childish to really merit spending time with these Chatty Kathy critters. So when a captivating book featuring only talking animals comes along, it’s a pleasant surprise. Barry Wolverton’s "Neversink" really stands out as one such story.
Wolverton shows the key to talking animals is giving said animals a sort of sophistication. There is no need for barks intermingled with simple monosyllabic words, or to have the animal convo so dumbed down it becomes condescending to young readers. Wolverton’s characters have such an air of intelligence and wit around them that you can’t help but be pulled in by their conversations.
Furthermore, the adventure of Wolverton’s animal characters has some importance to it, rather than a “Let’s all go play in the sandbox!” kind of feel. Lockley J. Puffin actually has to save his entire species from famine all while attempting to overthrow a corrupt government. I just don’t think there are enough clues in the world for Blue to tackle those kind of challenges. Wolverton’s characters, however, have all the qualities needed to handle just such an adventure, and they make me wish I had some Dr. Dolittle-like powers to have a nice chat with all of them.