Some books are worth reading more than once. I have several books that I like to reread, many of them old favorites that I revisit each year at a specific time. Big Red is one of my books to read in autumn. I first picked it up when I was just a little tomboy. I remember this book resonating with me because the setting was very like my own home: the wild hills which I explored by myself and with my brother and sister and cousins was much like the land described in the book. Big Red is also a coming of age story and I’ve always been a sucker for a good coming of age tale. There is danger and adventure and a boy who embraces solitude and independence. There are beautiful illustrations by Bob Kuhn. There are life lessons and lyrical language. And there’s the dog. And who doesn’t love a good boy-and-dog story? And (spoiler alert) this one does not have a heartbreaking ending.
“He stood there, feeling the warm spring breezes blow about his face and neck and ruffle his shirt. And it seemed to him that never before in his entire life had he been so calm, or known so exactly just what he was going to do.
Old Majesty must die, he was very sure of that. Not alone because he had killed Asa and hurt Ross, and probably would hurt or kill other men, but for an added reason. The Wintapi was wild and hard–ever ready with its threats and dangers. Only those who could meet and parry its blows were entitled to live there, or could live there. Now Old Majesty had asserted his own supremacy over all of it and in attacking Ross, proclaimed that nothing could walk in the Wintapi unless he willed it. And Danny knew that he must meet the big bear’s challenge, must go into the mountains and fight Old Majesty on his own grounds. This was not something that a man could forget or run from.
At the same time, he was fully aware of the risks he ran and the chances he took. First there was Red, the dog that, next to Ross, he loved better than anything else. In hunting Old Majesty Red might be killed. Or, if he was not killed or even hurt, the fact that Danny must urge him to hunt a bear, a varmint, could easily make meaningless all the long hours that Danny had taken to teach him to hunt partridges alone. Lastly, Danny considered the fact that he himself might be hurt.
But he still knew that he had to go, that Ross expected him to go. Ross saw the Wintapi as Danny did, and knew that he who quailed at any challenge it hurled was forever lost. Danny bit his lip. He was young, but old enough to know that life was seldom easy. And it seemed to him that in the future there would be a great many other bears to meet. How he met them depended in great measure on what he did now with Old Majesty. It had become his fight. Regardless of loss or sacrifice he must give everything to winning it.”
Get your own copy or buy a copy for your favorite tomboy: Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard