cover image The Boy Who Ran to the Woods

The Boy Who Ran to the Woods

Jim Harrison. Atlantic Monthly Press, $18.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-87113-822-4

Author of novellas for adults, Harrison (Legends of the Fall) makes his children's book debut with a rambling, ponderous tale centering on seven-year-old Jimmy, a boy living in northern Michigan during WWII. Distressed because he can't find the marbles he buried under the porch, Jimmy runs through town yelling in anger, until he encounters Mary Jo, ""an unhappy girl for reasons no one could figure out."" The two quarrel and she hits him with a glass bottle, leaving him blind in one eye. He becomes ""a wild and unruly boy"" and finds trouble in and out of school. The strongest and most closely observed scenes in the book describe Jimmy's summer in a log cabin in the woods and his awakening appreciation of nature. In other situations, Harrison skims the surface of even the most dramatic proceedings (such as the blinding of Jimmy's eye, hopping a freight train and exploring a haunted house), and Pohrt (Crow and Weasel), too, takes the most staid route, portraying mainly buildings or clusters of trees rather than the events described (there are only three drawings of Jimmy, and one is from the back). By summer's end, Jimmy seems anxious to learn from books about the natural world he has just discovered and apparently learns to live according to the rules. Falling flat as either a cautionary tale or a celebration of nature, the story ends with Jimmy, as an old man, reflecting on his ""difficult childhood."" Ages 9-12. (Oct.)