Elf Dog and Owl Head

by M T Anderson (Author) Junyi Wu (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 4th − 5th Grade

From the singular imagination of National Book Award winner M. T. Anderson comes a magical adventure about a boy and his dog--or a dog and her boy--and a forest of wonders hidden in plain sight.

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.

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Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
A hilarious, heartfelt triumph.


This playful romp pulls magic into the mundane and gives regular kids the chance to be heroes while Wu’s cross-hatched pencil illustrations dust the proceedings with further enchantment.

Review quotes

A charming, fantastical spin on the familiar kid/dog story, right down to their tragic separation being quickly followed by a heartwarming reunion. . . . There's a lot for contemporary kids to relate to here: Clay's loneliness, his sister's anger at being forced to stay home, his parents' constant worry, and the general unfairness of the entire situation. Holding all that chaotic emotion together and framing it with a well-developed fantasy world is an impressive feat, and Anderson, as usual, does it with aplomb. —The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 

Themes of the unbreakable bonds of friendship, sibling relationships, the love between a boy and his dog, and the triumph of good over evil play out in this page-turner of a novel. . . .Students will be drawn to this clever, magical novel. —School Library Connection 

Delightful, amusing, and imaginative! Elf Dog and Owl Head proves that great stories are good medicine. —Cynthia Leitich Smith, best-selling author of Sisters of the Neversea 

It is not hyperbole to say that M. T. Anderson is one of the greatest living writers, in any genre and for every age group. It might even be an understatement. —Adam Gidwitz, author of The Inquisitor's Tale, a Newbery Honor Book
M T Anderson
M. T. Anderson is the author of Feed, a National Book Award Finalist; the National Book Award winner The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party and Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves, which were both Michael L. Printz Honor Books; Symphony for the City of the Dead; Yvain: The Night of the Lion; Landscape with Invisible Hand; and many other books for children and young adults, including The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, cocreated with Eugene Yelchin, which was a National Book Award Finalist. M. T. Anderson lives near Boston, Massachusetts.

Junyi Wu is the illustrator of several books, including Two Bicycles in Beijing by Teresa Robeson; Beatrix Potter, Scientist by Lindsay H. Metcalf; and the Newbery Honor Book Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker. Junyi Wu is a graduate of ArtCenter College of Design and is based in Orange County, California.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Candlewick Press (MA)
Publication date
April 20, 2023
BISAC categories
JUV002070 - Juvenile Fiction | Animals | Dogs
JUV037000 - Juvenile Fiction | Fantasy & Magic
JUV001000 - Juvenile Fiction | Action & Adventure
Library of Congress categories

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