"Mother Deer and Mother Rabbit were close by, enjoying the sight of the two new friends playing. Another set of eyes was watching too."

Delaney the deer comes into the world full of questions for her doting mother doe. When Delaney is old enough, she becomes friends with Rocket the rabbit, and the two play and learn together. Sometime later, they are befriended by Cardinal Red, a bird protecting her soon-to-hatch eggs. Together, the trio becomes trusted friends and companions, sticking together through fun days of play, cozy naps, the terror of a fire, and the ever-present threat of a hungry resident coyote, who will only be appeased by alternate food sources for so long.

This well-intended and lovingly rendered children’s book walks the line between showcasing sweet animal characters and describing the dangers they face. On the one hand, when the trio of friends convene in their series of playdates, theirs is an appealing community of youngsters developing friendship and trust, learning about others, and sharing of themselves. On the other hand, the constant tension of the prowling coyote imbues their days with anxiety and inevitability. Delaney, Rocket, and Cardinal may survive for now, but the book is a solid reminder that for them, danger is never far away.

The story of these sweet animals is rendered upon realistic pictures that are rich in glossy color and contrast. The large, full-bleed illustrations make this a visually appealing book that is likely to attract and entertain preliterate children who will appreciate the gentle expressions and scenes of the animal characters. Even the coyote, though a perennial threat, appears with a thoughtful and almost cuddly visage, pulling the punch on what could have been a far more sinister image.

Do the beauty and kindness of the animals make Delaney’s story worth reading to a child who might find predators and fire upsetting? This quest for content balance often dominates children’s literature and entertainment. From Old Yeller to Bambi, animal stories that touch readers most deeply often do so via the strong love they portray, as well as through the tragedy they faithfully report. Disney stories are famously gruesome, with deceased and replaced mothers, children losing parents, murderous witches, greedy villains, and animals suffering the realities of their natural and manmade fates. In Delaney’s story, reader comfort may depend on the lifestyle and experiences of the kid. For children raised away from nature and life cycles, the violent, physical threat of a predator might inspire overwhelming fear. However, for children raised in more rural or farming environments, where birth, death, hunting, and a natural order are experienced on a daily basis, a story about animals facing dangerous lives may have great resonance.

It is on this note the author seems to have written her story, with affection and observations about her own region of this place called the “Neck.” It is easy to imagine a writer looking out her window, strolling on a walk, and seeing the very animal friends and foes she has so artfully and thoughtfully brought to life (and near death) in her story. If children can read this book and likewise look outside in their own environments and imagine the local lives, loves, and challenges faced in their backyards, they will have gained much from a simple story about three little animal friends.

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