Seventeen-year-old, trail-wise Danny Pickett and his father live off nature's bounty. They fish, hunt and run a trap line. The father and son live a clean air, simple existence--no materialism or keeping up with the Jones's. Back to nature? Dad and Danny never left it. Unlike many of today's YA fiction, their relationship is close, positive, and mutually respectful. However, the dad does recognize certain characteristics in Danny that stem from his dead mother.
Through the benevolence of the local landowner, Danny befriends and acquires a beautiful Irish setter. As they traipse the local woods and streams sharing the challenges of the outdoors, Danny trains "Red" in hunting dog skills. They become inseparable and depend on each other for survival. Each chapter is a developed, pulse-raising adventure more exciting than the last--from the slashing teeth of a wolverine and confrontation with an escaped criminal to a life and death struggle with the ferocious bear called Old Majesty.
No, the author does not ignore or candy coat death by tooth and claw. But it is never graphic or diverts from the heartwarming story. It is treated as matter of fact and just part of nature. Yes, Danny is a hunter and fisherman. "PC" educators and the establishment media cancelled their National Rifle Association membership and took authors like Jim Kjelgaard off their recommended lists years ago.
One of the many reasons for the continued appeal of the Kjelgaard books has been his endearing male characters. They are in stark contrast to much of today's YA "problem" fiction characters. Danny's principled actions, cool thinking, and self-confidence portray a refreshing maturity that makes sense for a boy who early in life learned survival skills and developed a self-reliance by having to depend on oneself. Many teen readers favor and appreciate his strong, rugged individualism. What boy wouldn't prefer being thought of as a competent young man instead of an awkward, troubled kid?
Contemporary author C.J. Box's hero of his popular "game warden" modern western/mystery series is also named Pickett. I've always wondered if it was just a coincidence. Grownup readers remembering "Big Red's" Danny can easily envision him growing up to be just like the "Joe" Pickett of the "Box" novels.
Besides The author's other "dog" novels such as Irish Red, Outlaw Red, and Snow Dog, a good "canine" collection should include the recent Dog Stories edited by Tesdell, classics such as Terhune's Lad, Lassie by Knight, Old Yeller, and Sounder. Bob, Son of Battle by Ollivant, Curwood's Kazan, and, of course, don't forget Jack London and James Heriot's Dog Stories should also be considered. There is even the poetry book, Doggerel: Poems About Dogs edited by Ciurau.
Readers unfamiliar with the Kjelgaard books will, of course, initially be surprised. There is nothing to plug in or stick in your ears, no computers, and no noises except the sounds of nature. Nothing lights up but the night sky. Survival relies on your brain and senses, not magic. There are no dragons or mythical creatures, just real animals. Gee, who could possibly be interested in such books? Well, how about the customers and their families who have made Pro Bass Shop and Gander Mountain multi-million dollar corporations! Published in 1945 and still widely read, I wonder if you'll be able to find the "Harry" or Twilight books sixty years from now? 218 pages. Recommended by Robert L. Hicks, Librarian.