Elf Dog & Owl Head

Elf Dog & Owl Head
Co-Authors / Illustrators
Age Range
Release Date
April 11, 2023
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Clay has had his fill of home life. A global plague has brought the world to a screeching halt, and with little to look forward to but a summer of video-calling friends, vying with annoying sisters for the family computer, and tuning out his parents’ financial worries, he’s only too happy to retreat to the woods. From the moment the elegant little dog with the ornate collar appears like an apparition among the trees, Clay sees something uncanny in her. With this mysterious Elphinore as guide, he’ll glimpse ancient secrets folded all but invisibly into the forest. Each day the dog leads Clay down paths he never knew existed, deeper into the unknown. But they aren’t alone in their surreal adventures. There are traps and terrors in the woods, too, and if Clay isn’t careful, he might stray off the path and lose his way forever. Graced with evocative black-and-white illustrations by Junyi Wu, Elf Dog and Owl Head is heartfelt and exhilarating, wry and poignant, seamlessly merging the fantastic and the familiar in a tale both timely and timeless.

Editor review

1 review
A boy, his dog, and an unusual friend
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
What worked:
While not directly said, the book is set in a time similar to the Covid 19 outbreak with all of the characters quarantined in their homes. The title is a bit odd but it refers to characters in the story. Elf Dog is part of a royal hunting party living under the hills, the People Under the Mountain, as they pursue a dragon-like wyrm. However, the wyrm escapes into the human world where magical creatures are hidden in their own concealed domains. Owl Head characters are just like the name implies and they actually call the main character, Clay, a Human Head. Clay’s encounter with the Owl Heads reveals their prejudice and distrust toward humans which becomes a conflict in the plot. Their wariness and anger toward Human Heads aren’t totally unfounded but hopefully, the budding friendship between Clay and an Owl Head boy named Amos will change these feelings from the past.
The dog is called Elphinore and she is a central part of the story. Part of her abilities allows her to travel between magical worlds that are normally invisible to humans. Her instincts are for hunting and she remembers her royal treatment while living underground. She tries to understand life with humans and feels special when she’s allowed to sleep near Clay’s bed instead of in a royal kennel. Plastic isn’t seen underground so eating from a plastic dish must be a sign of respect. Throughout the story, Elphinore is able to sense and smell danger and she’s a fierce warrior when protecting Clay. However, she wants to return home while Clay is determined to keep her. This creates another conflict simmering below the surface, pun intended, and readers will anticipate the moment when the People Under the Mountain realize Clay has their dog.
The author takes the plot in a new direction in the second half of the book and gives a minor character a more prominent role. Clay’s two sisters are usually found at home bickering about most things. His younger sister Juniper is an organized, intelligent girl and this rankles her teenage sister DiRossi. DiRossi is especially upset about being quarantined and spends much of her time stewing and sulking while listening to loud music in her room. She misses seeing her friends in person and becomes jealous of Clay’s new companionship with Elphinore. The plot twists when she follows Clay and ventures into the forest herself, unaware of the hidden dangers lurking there.
What didn’t work as well:
The wyrm lurks in the shadows for much of the plot but I suspected it would play a bigger role. It makes a grand reentrance at one point and it feels like it should return again, maybe during the climax. The conflict with the Owl Heads isn’t resolved the way I expected but the author brings all of the issues to a happyish resolution in the end.
The Final Verdict:
The author creates an unusual, relatable world as the backdrop for a story of friendship and love. Young readers will connect with a boy’s close bond with his dog and they’ll empathize with his struggles to save it. Overall, I recommend you give the book a shot.
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