On the fifth day, Annie was overtaken by an angry bear. She saw the fox lunging for the bear before everything went black. When Annie opened her eyes she was in a strange place. A wizened woman peered down at her. “Drink. This will make you well,” said the woman. So Annie took the bitter tonic and closed her eyes.
As she scouts the land, Annie, a young large-eyed ranger discovers a fox injured in a trap. She sets it free, binds its wounds and determines to stay with it while it heals but not so long that it becomes tame. Once recovered. the fox appears to have other ideas, keeping pace with the girl as she travels and resting with her at camp. On the fifth day, they are overtaken by a bear, and the ranger falls into unconsciousness as the fox defends her. Does Annie dream the fox-like woman who tends her as she lies ill? Annie finally accepts the friendship of Kit the fox, and they continue their journey together.
Like Outlaw, the first title in the “Crow Trilogy”, The Ranger is as powerful in its directness, restraint and overall fascination. Once again, the title is set in an unspecified time and place, but, like Outlaw, it feels as if it is set in the West in the mid-1800s. The spare text, sharp and intriguing in its simplicity and understatement, leaves ample opportunity for readers to contribute their own thoughts on the developing story.
Moments of calm beauty contrast with high drama and mystery, such as the bear attack and the inscrutable old woman with the shadow of a fox who tends Annie in her illness. Annie is revealed as a focused and determined individual, somewhat detached and with fixed notions as to what is right. Perhaps she is possessive of her freedom, but, along the way, she learns that, where friendship is concerned, calculations do not work.
The illustrations mirror and complement the simplicity of the story, often revealing subtleties deliberately left hanging in the text. Bold double-page spreads feature ink and water-color in sombre grays, greens and black, with splashes of color, enhanced by the use of newspaper and fabric designs of the era. The artwork evokes the feel of the times and the drama of the story. It also captures the aloofness of the ranger, the dogged attachment of the fox and small whimsical details that give added strength to the text.
The Ranger, like its predecessor, is a dramatic captivating read, one which will leave readers returning to it in thought long after the book is closed.
Aileen Wortley, a retired children’s librarian, resides in Toronto, Ontario.