Book Review: The Happy Hunter

Sundays are for Reading - The Happy Hunter by Roger Duvoisin

When Mr. Bobbin watches the hunters go past from the bench by his front door, he’s so filled with admiration for their shiny guns that he decides to be a hunter too. So begins The Happy Hunter, a New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 1962, a charming and lighthearted fable of how animals and humans can live together in harmony.

Initially, clad in his hunter’s gear, Mr. Bobbin’s first forays as a hunter makes animals take fright.  But it isn’t long before they discover his approach always comes with a cough or a sneeze or a little hum of song — something to warn every animal that Mr. Bobbin doesn’t truly intend to hurt them, but loves merely to see them carry on with their lives before he returns home for a dinner of noodles and hot chocolate or pancakes with milk.

The composition of each illustration reflects Mr. Bobbin’s relationship with nature: at first he is situated diagonally across the page from a fleeing creature. But in each successive drawing, the distance between Mr. Bobbin and animal shrinks, as the creatures of the forest lose their fear of this happy hunter. Mr. Bobbin passes many happy years walking through the forest, the fields, the hills, the valleys in this way.

All picture books face a constraint in words. Like the very best poetry, the very best picture books deliver humour, whimsy, and depth in a compact package. In The Happy Hunter, Roger Duvoisin’s colour palette of blues, yellows, greens, and browns similarly makes use of its limits to create a story without a wasted word or line of ink, illustration and text perfectly complementing one another as the story of Mr. Bobbin’s hunts unfold.

Mr. Bobbin is torn between two worlds — the world of the hunters, and the world of animals. In the only illustration they appear in, the hunters dominate the page, eclipsing the sky and the ground in large yellow shapes. Mr. Bobbin by contrast appears with the horizon rising well over his head, engulfed by the forest or the grasses much like the animals. He blends into the composition of every page as a perfectly proportioned part of the world, a harmonious cog in the cycle of nature.

It is when Mr Bobbin grows too old to put on his hunter’s clothes that the animals take over the course of the story in the way that the hunters. Having come to care for Mr. Bobbins, and with the obstacle of the hunter’s clothes removed with time, the animals close the final distance. Rather than go past Mr. Bobbins’ door, the animals come right up to him as he sits on the bench by his door to bring more happy years to him.

A lovely, gentle book,The Happy Hunter brings a message of balance and ecological harmony in all its aspects. This beautiful hardcover edition will make a welcome classic addition to any library for readers 4 and up.


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