The Crow’s Tale

posted in: Naomi Howarth | 7

I can’t resist filling your screen (and mine) with this gorgeous front cover:

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The Crow’s Tale by Naomi Howarth (@nhillustrator) is a visually spectacular retelling of a Lenni Lenape Native American legend about how the crow came to have black feathers, and about what counts as real beauty: not how you look, but how you behave.

Deep in the middle of a snowy winter, the animals are all cold and hungry. Crow volunteers to bring back some warmth from the sun, but in doing so he is changed forever. Will his friends still love him?

You see, Crow used to have breathtakingly brilliant feathers in ever colour under the sun. But where there’s fire, there’s soot, and Crow despairs at how his outward appearance is transformed, when all he wanted to do was help his friends.

What this dazzling story tells us all, however, is that “your beauty inside” is what really matters and shines through. Selfless, brave and still beautiful, Crow learns that what his friends really value is his kindness, generosity and courage, not whether his feathers are black or shot through with rainbows.

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Howarth’s picture book début is a feast for the eyes, and not least in the way the black crow feathers are reproduced (I can’t show them here because the special printing techniques just don’t show up on a computer screen). Her use of colours reminds me at times of a favourite illustrator of mine – Karin Littlewood – and Howarth’s use of varied perspective keeps page turns surprising.

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The fluency of the rhyming text doesn’t quite match the sumptuous heights of the illustration, but the sentiment is heart-warming, encouraging and just right for boosting confidence and encouraging consideration of what we value in ourselves and others.

Inspired by the stunning array of Crow’s original feathers we set about making our own rainbow plumage. We decorated lots of white feathers using slightly watered-down acrylic paint (the acrylic paint “sticks” nicely to the feathers – much more easily and/or brightly than watercolour or poster paint does – and by watering it down it is easier to apply):

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Once our feathers were dry we turned them into a piece of art, positioning them in a circle (we used a plate to guide us) on a piece of black card.

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It’s now one of the first things you see when you enter our front door (along with obligatory piles of books):

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Whilst painting feathers we listened to:

  • Beauty Inside by Mister Marc. This is rather catchy and just a perfect match to the sentiment in The Crow’s Tale.
  • Crow by Joe’s Backyard Band.
  • The Carrion Crow by Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger. We love the nonsense words in this song.


  • Other activities which might work well alongside reading The Crow’s Tale include:

  • Finding out more about the Lenni Lenape Tribal Nation. You could also see if you can find a copy of When The Shadbush Blooms by Carla Messinger, Susan Katz and David Kanietakeron Fadden, a picture book including lots of detail on the Lenni Lenape culture and language, past and present.
  • Crow spotting! Eight species breed in the UK and many are easy to spot even in cities (apologies to readers in the very North-West of Scotland where it will be much harder to spot any members of the crow family). Why not go on a walk and see how many different members of the crow family you can spot. Here’s the RSPB page on the crow family.
  • Painting with nail polish. This sounds crazy, but if you want to get the iridescent sheen on the crow’s black feathers you can use pearly nail polish over black paint. Alternatively try collaging with iridescent cellophane on top of your black paint.


  • If you liked this post you might like these other posts by me:

  • Making colourful wings out of tissue paper
  • The Iridescence of Birds (or: Painting with eye-shadow)
  • Creating a guinea fowl collage
  • crowoptions

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    Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher.

    7 Responses

    1. This is such a visually powerful meatphor and I can see how you fell in love with the illustrations – and, as ever, the artwork it has inspired is stunning.
      Marjorie (MWD) recently posted..Reconciliation and Friendship in the Face of Fear and Distrust in Children’s and YA Books

    2. Wooooooo !! I love this ! That’s definetly something we need to do at home !
      We are very found of native american culture and stories. Do you know Paul Goble books ? They are gorgious (The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, Buffalo Woman, Death of the Iron Horse) !!

      • I definitely recommend the feather painting Sophie. We also tried colouring them with sharpies, but we found the painting with watered down acrylic by far and away the most successful and enjoyable. There are so many things you can do with the gorgeous feathers once painted. I don’t know Paul Goble’s books but will look them up. Thanks for the tip.

    3. Thanks for sharing this gorgeous book and your beautiful corresponding art. I love it!
      Jill Swanson recently posted..five helpings of gratitude

      • Hi Jill, thank YOU for taking the time to leave a comment! That puts a smile on my face.

    4. […] and certainly they will have something to ponder. Do take a look at Playing by the Book’s review and be inspired in turn by their artwork inspired by the […]

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