“Freedom… / and survival!” exult the last words of text in this exquisitely rendered full-spread, full-bleed series of watercolor-and–colored-pencil images.
The moon illuminates all, as the forest animals go about their nocturnal lives, real animals doing what animals do: Both stags and beetles lock horns; a magnificent snowy owl swoops to seize a rat; a hedgehog snacks on one of those beetles. The text is printed on ribbons of white that are overlaid on the pictures, like scraps of torn paper; they are occasionally hard to read as the text curves and scatters. Although there is no blood and gore, the circle of life (and death) is clear: These animals depend on one another for food, for survival. If the fox, from whom the hare has escaped, does not find a meal for its kits, they will die. In the end, the fox brings down a goose and brings it home to the kits in a flurry of downed feathers. While the animals are delicately depicted, there is not a trace of anthropomorphism or sentimentality. The silvery moonlight allows MacCarthy to show the texture of leaf and fur, feather and fish scale, with honesty and beauty.
A bracing and beautiful antidote to cute-animals-in-the-forest stories. (Picture book. 5-9)