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Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard

January 31, 2013

Children’s and Young Adult Book Reviews: Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard    910L

big red kjelgaardA classic boy-and-his-dog book.  This book is a great blend of realistic outdoor adventure and the special bond between a boy and his dog. Big Red is a believable adventure tale.  Danny and his father, Ross, display a balance of  appreciation for the natural environment coupled with the skills of woodsmen leading a hardscrabble life in the Wintapi forest. Life in the Wintapi hasn’t changed much for the independent families who make their living in the back country; hunting, trapping, and gathering have created a resourceful and straightforward people.

Mr Haggin is a wealthy land owner whose estate contains miles of back country and includes Danny and Ross’s humble cabin. While Ross makes his living off the land, they often perform odd jobs for Mr Haggin such as helping him find straying cattle.  Ross and Danny are at home in the wilderness even though they have many struggles including the fierce marauding bear who rules the forest, afraid of no man or beast.

Boys grow into men early in this Appalachian style culture, and Danny’s life is about to take a significant turn as he meets Red, Mr. Haggin’s champion Irish Setter. Good hound dogs used for hunting a variety of animals have always been treasured, but Red is the epitome of everything Danny considers the perfect dog.

Danny’s way with dogs and eye for quality catches Mr. Haggin’s attention. Mr. Haggin offers Danny a job in his bird dog training program under the watchful eye of Robert Fraley. Danny’s first trip to a big city is to see Red compete in a high caliber dog show. It’s a strange world to Danny, where dogs are judged solely on their looks, but with the help and advice of Mr. Haggin Danny begins to understand that these shows are the foundation for choosing  good working dogs.  There’s enough solid  information here for young readers to gain some useful knowledge about bird hunting and training bird dogs.

Mr. Haggin can see that the bond between Red and Danny defies human intervention and Red is sent to live and grow up in the Wintapi  wilderness under the care of Danny. In this setting the best of Red’s instincts are honed, and the champion show dog develops into a clever bird dog who learns how to navigate the wilderness of the Wintapi.

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  • Hunting and trapping of wild animals figures largely in this story
  • A bear kills a bull
  • A hound pup is killed by a lynx. The lynx stalks Danny in the night. Ross shoots the lynx.
  • An escaped convict poses as a game warden and catches Danny unawares in the woods. Danny defends himself by shooting at the man’s rifle and wounding the man’s  arm. Danny then takes him in to the cabin to wait for the authorities.
  • A wolverine is raiding the winter trap lines and Danny comes face to face with it, defending himself with only an ax. Danny and Red take refuge in an old cabin, but the wolverine digs in through the crumbling chimney .  Red, now wise to the ways of wild animals, makes quick work of the lynx.
  • The fierce bear kills Ross’s mule and Ross goes out to hunt him down. The bear kills multiple  hunting dogs and ends up hurting Ross.
  • Red is used to hunt down the bear and a battle ensues. Red gets badly hurt.  Danny shoots the bear and carries Red back home to recuperate.
5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 1, 2013 6:36 AM

    Reblogged this on 323 Archery Shoot and commented:
    I loved Big Red as a young reader – there are a lot of good reads in this genre, My Side of the Mountain is another good one.

    • February 1, 2013 11:37 AM

      It was another one of those “feel like I found a gold mine” moments when I found Kjelgaard’s books: Adventure stories that appeal to boys without being gross or graphically violent are hard to find these days. I’ll be reviewing Wild Trek next.

      Thanks for the re-blog. Incidentally my sons are into archery, too!

      • February 1, 2013 1:18 PM

        Excellent! Well if the boys like adventure books, about thirty years before there was a Harry Potter, Susan Cooper wrote ‘The Dark is Rising,’ the main character is an 11 year old boy. Very good, won lots of awards. Thanks for the comment, and good luck paying for archery equipment if they get to the point where I am. ($1k per year for a bow, $1,500 for accessories…. groan)

      • February 3, 2013 8:53 PM

        Thanks, I’ll check out the book….

        re archery equipment, I can see it coming… son number one has outgrown his bow.

  2. February 4, 2013 12:29 PM

    Reblogged this on

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