Two owls, seven trees and some valuable lessons

May 18, 2010

Category: Words    Tags: , ,

A review of ‘Little Owl’s Book of Thinking’ by Ian Gilbert

Don’t judge this book by its cover. Either of them.

On the front cover, a charming watercolour of a pair of owls suggests ‘Little Owl’s Book of Thinking’ is going to be a cute little woodland tale — which it isn’t really. On the back cover, the price (£6.99) might put you off buying when you see that it is only 82 small pages.

But, if you’re prepared to delve inside (try this link to Amazon for a cheaper copy), you’ll be rewarded with one of the wittiest, thought-provoking books on meta-cognition you could choose to use in your classroom (or read with your own child). If you value a book by its usefulness and content, then ‘Little Owl’s Book of Thinking’ is well-worth it.

Slightly off-topic, but bear with us: John Davitt has a great little tool on his website to encourage creative teaching. By clicking the Learning Event Generator, you hit the media “shift button” for learners and are given random teaching ideas such as to “do sedimentary rocks as a haiku” or to teach “similar polygons as a Blues song”.

Back on-topic: Ian Gilbert, the author of ‘Little Owl’s Book of Thinking’ must have hit that same media “shift button” when he came up with a book about thinking skills, multiple intelligences and learning styles — taught through the medium of trees.


Benny is an inquisitive owlet and his father, Big Owl, decides one day that the time is ripe to get his son thinking about thinking. Wise owl that he is, Big Owl looks at the forest around him and takes his inspiration from the different oak trees he sees. Seven trees make for seven chapters and, in each, a key lesson about thinking and learning. The whole narrative is peppered with witty asides and puns that will leave you smiling.



In his introduction, Ian Gilbert explains,

Like a stereo in a lift, this book works on many different levels. There’s no need to worry if not everyone gets them all. (Although be slightly worried if no-one gets any.) Above all the book is designed to make you laugh and make you think. But not necessarily in that order.

We never review external books or resources for payment or reward and so we hope a Sparky Teaching review is a recommendation that is worth something to you. We’re reviewing it simply because it’s good! To whet your appetite, here is a quote from each of the seven chapters, together with some discussion-starters you might like to ask your child or class (suitable for KS2-age)…

My point, my son, is that between your two tucked-away ears you have whatever you need to learn and do whatever you need to learn and do… So, don’t tell me there’s anything you can’t do because it simply isn’t true.

Little Owl’s Book of Thinking, Ian Gilbert

    - When is your brain at its most powerful?
    - What’s the best way of practising using your brain?
    - Do you think there’s nothing you can’t do?

What does your mind want you to become, Benny?

Little Owl’s Book of Thinking, Ian Gilbert

    - When should you start worrying about what sort of person you want to become and what sort of life you have?
    - What sort of person do you want to be?
    - How can you be that person?

I’m telling you to be creative. Think independent. Fly your own flight. Do things no owl does or do things every owl does but in a way that no owl does…”

Little Owl’s Book of Thinking, Ian Gilbert

    - Is it ever OK to break the rules? When?
    - What does it mean to be creative?
    - Have you ever done something one way when everyone else has been doing it another way?

You need to think like the oak. I’m here for you, but I am not doing it for you. I can support you, but I can’t always hold you up.

Little Owl’s Book of Thinking, Ian Gilbert

    - Who is responsible for your success? Your parents? Your teachers?
    - What sorts of things do you need to rely on others for?
    - When do you think you stand on your own feet?

we are different, but we can all learn and learn well. So, you have to learn how you learn best – know how you learn, learn the way your brain needs to learn and learn in many different ways.

Little Owl’s Book of Thinking, Ian Gilbert

    - How best do you learn?
    - Why do you find it best to learn in this way?
    - Instead of “how clever are you?”, how are you clever?

If you try to solve the problem with the first right answer that comes your way, then there is no guarantee that you’ll be solving it with the best right answer.

Little Owl’s Book of Thinking, Ian Gilbert

    - Are there any questions where there is only one right answer?
    - Which questions have no right answers?
    - What does it mean to ‘evaluate’ something?

From deep down inside, you knew.

Little Owl’s Book of Thinking, Ian Gilbert

    - Have you ever made a split-second decision by trusting your instincts?
    - Where does that deep-down-inside-gut-feeling come from?
    - What does Big Owl mean by “the squirrel the oak is in”?

So, don’t judge this book by its cover. Judge it by the pithy forest wisdom inside. After having bought a copy six months ago, it’s been read several times since. It may be short, but ‘Little Owls’s Book of Thinking’ contains just the sort of witty, lively writing that leaves you thinking, “I wish I’d written that,” and looking for opportunities to use its lessons in class.

Metacognition has never been so entertaining.



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