FREEMAN COLUMN: Animal Tales – Authors explore life lessons through new picture books

“Night of the White Deer”

By Jack Bushnell

Illustrated by Miguel Co

For ages 4–8

Are legends real? Some may be. Told as a modern folk tale, “Night of the White Deer” finds a young boy dreaming about the legend of the white dear.

Some folks say she is a star that fell to Earth. Others proclaim she is spilled milk that has risen out of the Earth to form the deer.

The boy thinks they are all just fun stories until the night he sees the deer on their farm. When he walks into the field to see the deer, he is taken on a magical journey. They fly through the skies and into the aurora where he sees other varieties of deer running and jumping.

The next morning the boy tells his family about the journey. When he and his father are alone his father reveals the he, too, had a magical journey with the deer long ago.

Most folk tales tell of a quest or offer a moral. The only lesson to be gleaned from this tale is that the world is full of magic, if we only believe.

Miguel Co does a wonderful job with the bright and inviting illustrations, adding a mystical touch to the story.

Whether this is enough to turn “Night of the White Deer” into a hit is unclear. Although it was a pleasant diversion the tale fell a little short for me.

“Black Dog”

By Levi Pinfold

For ages 4–8

What is your biggest fear and how do you face it? In Levi Pinfold’s, “Black Dog” the Hope family’s fears are embodied in a black dog. But the cover hides any dark side and offers only a beautifully illustrated house tucked into a wintery wood. Turning the pages to see what comes next is only natural.

When Mr. Hope spots a black dog in the yard he is struck by its large size. With each family member’s descriptions the dog grows larger and larger. First it’s the size of a tiger then an elephant. Finally it grows to the size of a Big Jeffy – whatever that is.

But this story is about confronting fears, not watching them prowl around your yard. Although it’s a little expected (some might say trite) little Small Hope, the baby of the family, decides to see what all the fuss is about. She marches out to the dog and they play chase. As they run, all the “big” fears become silly little concerns that are “nothing to be afraid of.” By the time Small returns to the house the big bad dog is just a loveable little hound.

The rich color illustrations and black-and-white thumbnail sketches add multiple layers to this imaginative tale. There is only one possible complaint for this great story-time pick. Be sure your children understand not to wander away from their families and confront strange dangers lurking outside their houses.

“This Is Not My Hat”

By Jon Klassen

For ages 4–10

Hat theft is not funny – at least not outwardly funny. Klassen has a darkly humorous approach to children’s books. In some ways his simple text, deadpan style and use of beautiful illustrations to complete his tale remind me of Sendak. He, too, never shied away from darker moments in telling his stories.

“This Is Not My Hat” follows a small fish as he swipes a hat from a large sleeping fish. The small fish proceeds to swim about with the hat, which fits him perfectly. He sees a crab, but doesn’t think the crab will say anything to the big fish. Of course the crab rats him out. The little fish tries to defend his theft, “The hat didn’t fit him anyway.” It doesn’t work. He even tries to hide among the grasses. But the last illustrations imply the outcome as the large fish swims away by himself with his hat on his head.

Klassen deftly mixes subtle illustration details with dark humor that has just the right level of deviousness for children to relate to the characters. Just make sure your children don’t take the wrong message away. The moral is crime doesn’t pay. It is not crush the little fish if he steals your hat.

And two for teens…

“Endure”

By Carrie Jones

For ages 14–16

“Twilight” has nothing on the Need series by Carrie Jones. With crazy evil vampire-like pixies, good superhero-style pixies, werewolves and more battling for the survival of the world, it is an intriguing page-turner. You’ll find romance, Norse gods and the strength of teenagers willing to fight for what they believe. Don’t pick up this, the last book in the series, and expect to understand everything that is happening. But you can still enjoy a wild adventure.

What’s good: Entertaining characters mixed with beautifully described setting to hook you into the story.

What’s bad: A lot of violence, blood and … violence. It is a battle for world survival.

“IQ: Kitty Hawk”

By Roland Smith

For ages 10–14

What happens when you mix young teens, ex-CIA agents and rock stars into one story? You end up with an action packed series called “IQ.” Roland Smith has mastered action adventure for young teens. In this, the third book in the series, we pick up the action with Quest, his stepsister and a team of ex-CIA agents tracking the kidnapped daughter of the president. Action is fast and furious with explosions, car bombs, magic tricks, mystical happenings and island raids. But if you haven’t read the first two books in the series, this one will be very confusing.

What’s good: Good character development and quick humor.

What’s bad: A lot of perilous situations for young teens and murder.

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