A surprising bond between an elder hunter and a moose sheds light on the lives of an Inner Mongolian people.
In the “vast forests” of mountainous northern China, the Indigenous Reindeer Ewenki people hunt, raise reindeer, and live in nomadic camps. When an old hunter named Gree Shek accidentally makes an orphan of a baby moose, guilt prompts the tan-skinned elder to bring the motherless calf back to his tent for the night. It’s not long before Xiao Han (“Little Moose”) is adopted into the camp, where he quickly grows to the size of a reindeer, joins the herd, and wreaks playful havoc on his adoptive home. Young readers will delight in the lumbering mammal’s antics; for instance, the ever growing Xiao Han insists on spending each night in Gree Shek’s tent—until the clumsy moose knocks it down entirely. Despite the loving bond, the aging hunter realizes that Xiao Han will never be quite suited for life among humans, and the lighthearted tale takes an emotional turn when the steadily declining hunter sends Xiao Han back into the wild. Blackcrane’s tale culminates in a rather grim scene: upon checking on Gree Shek’s campsite, fellow hunters discover his corpse (illustrated reverently by Jiu Er). Though the plot meanders, the tale is valuable for its thoughtful portrayal of the Reindeer Ewenki’s traditional ways. The illustrations’ delicate lines and shading meticulously model the characters, and there’s a solemnity to them even at their most slapstick.
Plodding, endearing, and humorous—not unlike a baby moose. (Picture book. 5-10)