In an alternating story line, we have a folkloric Caddo tale about a serpent, Grandmother Moccasin, who has been imprisoned because of events in her past. She is poised to escape and put these events to rights, and her story intersects with that of the animals in a poignant way.
This lyrical, atmospheric story is celebrating its tenth year in publication, and was a Newbery Medal Nominee (2009) and National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature (2008). It is a compelling story about friendship and the importance of keeping promises, and is unflinching in its portrayal of Gar Face's evil and inhumanity.
Readers who find books about animals in adverse circumstances, such as Lee's Dog Lost and Cat Found, Naylor's Shiloh, and especially Rawl's Where the Red Fern Grows will be drawn to the pathos of the cats and dog in adverse circumstances trying their best to have a decent life. The details of hunting small animals, avoiding dangers, and, most of all, providing an emotionally supportive community for each other are heart wrenching but hopeful.
While many teachers and parents read this book with elementary school children, those ages will benefit from the support the adults can give in understanding the story. Older students will be better able to process the difficult scenes on their own.
David Small's illustrations add another level of bittersweetness to this classic novel of friendship and integrity in the face of overwhelming odds.