Rufous is one heck of a proud hatchling. “I want to know whether I was the first hawk that ever came out of an egg.” “My, no,” his mother replied. “I came out of one too.” “What!” exclaimed the little bird in surprise. “It must have been a very big egg.” We see Rufous learning about himself, his surroundings and others, as his horizon expands from his shell, to the edge of his nest, to the bushes and animals by his tree, and on to his winter territory half a continent away.
The author matures Rufous’s character in perfect proportion to his experience and knowledge. Predators, pesky crows, Man, other hawks, a friend of uncertain value, his short lived conceits and his experiments with deceit, all provide Rufous with the lessons he needs to become a beautiful and truly marvelous, adult, Red-tailed Hawk. Over the 14 chapters of his youth we see Rufous learn, from increasingly complicated events, that the better his decisions are, the better he will become. Rufous provides an excellent example of the value of introspection, from which young readers will certainly benefit. The parallel with a human child’s growth and understanding is no accident, as the last chapter suggests.
It is common for the “Animal Story” genre to be a simple Naturalistic ‘telling’ of events in the life of a cute organism. Not so with “Rufous Redtail“. “Rufous” is an allegorical tale on the proper discovery of personal pride, and of the understandings that make a happy pride possible. “I’m through stealing chickens… a chicken eater gets heavy… he loses his hunting instinct and his natural speed.” The approach of author, Helen Garret, is entirely one of reason, and always from the hawk’s growing perspective.
One exception that most children will miss, is a contrived reference to a stereotyped view of philosophers, and the banal view that Life is a circle. It does little to undermine the intelligent practice and style of the book.
The author’s prose is such that a young reader will experience wonderful turns of phrase as simply normal, while an adult will at times find it poetic and enthralling. For example, describing nightfall, Garret writes, “the world turned slowly on its side and the shadow of night passed overhead.”
Rufous’s character will stick in many a child’s mind, and his story belongs on every child’s bookshelf.