cover image Caesar's Antlers

Caesar's Antlers

Brooks Hansen. Farrar Straus Giroux, $16 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-374-31024-0

This gentle animal tale about an endearing pair of sparrows and a loyal Nordic deer is just waiting for graduates of Bambi and Charlotte's Web. Themes of compassion, bravery and determination abound as Hansen, in his first book for young readers, traces the journeys of two separated birds, Piorello (who is taken off to boarding school by a little girl) and Bette, who combines searching for her mate with tending her brood by building a nest atop Caesar's antlers. The deer (on a mission of his own) and his guests combat snow, freezing temperatures, hungry predators, and weariness while Piorello, stranded across the ""enormous lake,"" works on a plan to return home. The author's mix of adventure and allegory--at one point, Bette ""carries"" the soul of a dying man to ""the king of the forest""--is not always smooth. But the book's eloquent descriptions of Nordic regions (""The basin rested at the far end of the tundra beyond the hills--a giant bowl set in the land, itself as large as a meadow but sunk in the ground as if the earth in just that part had lost its breath"") and heart-felt expressions of self-sacrifice smooth over rough transitions in narrative. The author's pen-and-ink illustrations add just the right touch to his delicate prose. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)