Voice of Youth Advocates(December 1, 2003; 0-439-40557-2)Soren, a sweet little barn owl who is not quite ready to fly, is booted out of his nest by his evil older brother, Kludd, while his parents are out hunting. Left on the ground to either hide or be eaten, Soren is swept up by an alarmingly large great horned owl and carried off to the St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls. At the Academy, his name is replaced with a number, he is told to ask no questions, and put to work as a picker, pulling apart owl pellets to look for mysterious flecks. Kept alert by his questioning mind and the steadfast friendship of Gylfie, a likewise kidnapped elf owl, Soren sets out to solve the riddle posed by St. Aggie's and ultimately to escape and help save his owl world from the domination of those running the orphanage. Characterization is merely adequate, but the setting is well realized with enough background to give the owl world depth and history. The plotting, although predictable, is swift and involving, making this first installment in a projected series a compelling read. It will appeal to readers of animal fantasies such as the Redwall series or Avi's Poppy (Orchard, 1995/VOYA June 1996).-Ann Welton. School Library Journal(October 1, 2003; 0-439-40557-2)Gr 4-8-At the beginning of this new series, a young Barn Owl named Soren lives peacefully with his family, participating in rituals like the First Meat ceremony, and enjoying legends about the Guardians of Ga'Hoole, knightly owls "who would rise each night into the blackness and perform noble deeds." After he falls from his nest, his idyllic world transforms into one of confusion and danger, as he is captured by evil chick-snatching owls and taken to the St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls. Soren and his new friend Gylfie work to develop strategies for withstanding "moon blinking" (brainwashing), while secretly striving to learn how to fly. The legends of Ga'Hoole help them to survive, and they are able to escape to find their families and warn the world about the dangers of St. Aegolius. While the owls have human characteristics, such as Soren's determination and Gylfie's creative ideas, their actions and culture reflect Lasky's research into owl behaviors and species. The story's fast pace, menacing bad guys, and flashes of humor make this a good choice for reluctant readers, while the underlying message about the power of legends provides a unifying element and gives strong appeal for fantasy fans.-Beth L. Meister, Yeshiva of Central Queens, Flushing, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information. Booklist(September 15, 2003; 0-439-40557-2)Gr. 5-8. Soren, a barn owl still weeks away from fledging, is knocked from his otherwise loving family's nest by his nasty older brother. He is swooped up from the forest floor by a pair of nefarious owls who hold himalong with many other owlets of diverse speciescaptive in a kind of owl social reformatory. Lasky portrays an owl world that has more in common with George Orwell than with Brianacques, offering readers big questions about human social psychology and politics along with real owl science. Broad themes related to the nature of personal choice, the need for fellowship based on love and trust, and sharing knowledge with one's peers are presented compellingly and with swift grafting to the animal adventure story. Developmentally linked celebrations (such as First Fur and First Meat ), methods devised for brain-washing (including the regimental marching of sleepy owls by moonlight), and the diverse landscapes in which owls makes their homes come to life here as Soren rebels against his captors, makes a friend, and executes the first stage of his planned liberation and family reconciliation. Readers will look forward to upcoming installments. Francisca Goldsmith Copyright 2003 Booklist Publishers Weekly(July 7, 2003; 0-439-40557-2)Lasky's (The Man Who Made Time Travel) Guardians of Ga'Hoole series opens with this unevenly paced tale centering on Soren, an owlet whose nasty older brother pushes him out of the family nest. A large owl snatches Soren up and carries him to a deep, dark canyon, the location of the St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls. Its nefarious nature is apparent from the start: Soren and other new arrivals are given numbers to replace their names, they are forbidden to ask questions and are required to sleep with their beaks "tipped to the moon" and to walk, herd-like, during the night when a full moon is shining. This "sleep march" leaves the young owls "moon blinked," after which, in the words of Soren's friend Gylfie, "You no longer know what is for sure and what is not. What is truth and what are lies." Soren and Gylfie discover a means of resisting the sleep marches and vow to escape the canyon by learning to fly, a feat they accomplish with the help of a sympathetic elder owl. Though much of the narrative is encumbered by excessive detail about the rituals of the repressive regime, the story moves at a quick clip once Soren and Gylfie find freedom and embark on a quest with two other orphaned owls. The likable characters may well entice fantasy fans to accompany them as they fly on to The Journey, due in September. Ages 8-12. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.