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Harald and the Great Stag

Harald is a peasant boy in medieval England. Nearly every day, he slips into the great forest — forbidden to all but the baron and his hunters — to gather berries. He longs to catch a glimpse of the legendary Great Stag. When he does see the majestic beast, Harald is awestruck, and makes a swift decision to save the stag from the baron’s hunt, to take place that very day.

Harald’s quick-witted actions, his fear as he hides from the baron’s pack of hunting dogs, and his eventual triumph make for an unusually tense and resonant picture book. Everything contributes to the story’s believability: the deep colors of the ancient forest and its slanting sunlight, the weathered authentically medieval faces of the hunters and gamekeepers, and the spare, intelligent narrative.

Donald Carrick’s watercolors capture the haunting beauty of the forest creatures, and they keep excitement at a high pitch with sudden shifts of perspective and dramatic angles.

The ending of Great Stag — when Harald learns that the baron’s old hunter has been in league with him all along — is wonderfully gratifying. A+

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