Title: Mr. Big Britches
Author: Darrell A. Rolerson
Reading Level: 10-13
Star Rating: ★★
So, this ratty-looking hardcover was only $ .10…
Mr. Big Britches is his nickname. Or, at least, that’s the name that Aunt Celestia calls him, and he doesn’t think she means it kindly. But Chad has grown accustomed to receiving nothing but thorns and prickles from Aunt Celestia. After all, she never wanted to raise him; it was only on account of his parents drowning that she had taken him in. And she reminded him of her dislike whenever she could.
Chad sometimes deserves it – especially on the days when he leaves his hoeing behind to go dream by the stream. What she doesn’t understand is that that’s how Chad lives. Watching butterflies and admiring nature – what better way for a boy to spend his time?
It is not until Aunt Celestia forces him to shoot a fox – a beautiful fox who’s been raiding their chicken coop – that Chad begins to consider running away. But after she refuses to let him keep his new pet, the kit Sadie, he begins to make definite plans.
Will he be able to escape from Aunt Celestia? And if he does, will he have the nerve to remain away from home?
So, there were two main themes in this story. The first is the tension between Aunt Celestia and Chad. Aunt Celestia is a complaining, argumentative, cantankerous women who is always criticizing Chad. Chad is the poor little boy who just wants to have a little freedom. It’s the classic overbearing authority figure versus the oppressed rebel. Aunt Celestia is very unpleasant – I freely admit that – and Chad shows a general lack of concern for her opinions and commands. In the end, the story is resolved *spoilers* by Chad returning home with money to ‘purchase’ Sadie, and Aunt Celestia being so overjoyed by his return that she lets him by scot free – no punishments, no nothing, and he gets to keep the fox.
The second theme is a hint of naturism. Chad is a very sensitive boy and finds the idea of shooting a fox loathsome. Now, I understand his emotion – I don’t think I would enjoy shooting a fox, either. But the fox was raiding and destroying Aunt Celestia’s chickens, and thus shooting it was a necessity for their livelihood. Chad does shoot it, but immediately regrets it.
Chad held back. There on the ground was the fox, dead and puny. Bedraggled. It had been beautiful. Now the eyes were blind and broken. The mouth was open and the lips yawned back across the yellow teeth in a final attmpt to snarl. Black blood leaked past the snarl and oozed into the soil.
Chad realized suddenly, that Aunt Celestia had praised him. For this she had praised him! He studied the dead fox, unable to find any pride in having killed the pitiful looking creature. It was the first time she had ever praised him . . . ever. Her praises meant nothing. [pg. 38]
Shortly thereafter, Chad escapes into the woods and finds the fox’s den. In it is a kit. Chad rescues the kit, mourning with her for the loss of her mother, and then brings it home. When Aunt Celestia refuses to let him keep a fox as a pet (it is sure to grow up to eat more of her chickens), Chad runs away for the sake of the fox.
Chad uses the words ‘magic’ and ‘spell’ to refer to perfectly ordinary circumstances. On one page, he describes Sadie as looking like a ‘wood nymph’. He is also scared of ‘wildmen’. Whatever THAT means.
Upon going into a cemetery, Chad thinks,
The cemetery was not used anymore. It belonged to the froth-green ferns and the wildflowers. And, if you believed, as Chad did, in haunts, then it belonged to the ferns and wildflowers and haunts. But they were quiet haunts, as if they had never anything to do but listen. [pg. 53]
Chad has several dreams, all of them fantastical. In one of them,
He dreamed of cotton candy and ships that sailed further than the eye can see. He dreamed of wizards and falling stars and firecrackers and snarling foxes and swarming hornets and Aunt Celestia…
He opened his eyes and sat bolt upright. The cotton candy and the ships, the wizards and the falling stars and firecrackers and snarling foxes and swarming hornets and even Aunt Celestia all dissolved. Chad’s first impulse was to lie back again to see if he might at least recapture the sailing ships or the wizards. But the violent haggling from the chicken coop was not a dream. [pg. 33]
Chad thinks often about the constellations.
To the south he knew of Lupus, the wolf; Hydrus, the water snake; and Musca, the fly. To the north he knew of Draco, the dragon; Lacerta, the lizard; and Cassiopeia, the lady in the chair. Somewhere, Chad knew of Orion, the giant hunter who had been slain by Artemis, Greek goddess of the moon. After Artemis had killed Orion, she placed him in the sky and condemned him for eternity to keep hunting. Somewhere else there was Hydra, the sea serpent, longest of all constellations. Chad remembered another story of a Hydra, too, a more spellbinding Hydra with nine heads. Every time one of its heads was cut off, two more grew on the same neck. But the monster was finally conquered by Hercules, who cut off all its nine heads and burned all its nine necks with such genius that it was impossible for another eighteen heads to appear. [pgs. 21-22]
On one page, Nehemiah says this about the sea.
“The sea’s alive, too. Live as any creature, breathin’ and beatin’ and prone to some mighty wicked temper tantrums. And when she’s done with you she’s done with you. She washed me up here, and here I be, hopin’ someday she’ll wash me back, only this time for good. I suspect she’s mean because she’s haunted. Haunted with dead sailors and pirates as onerous as Satan himself. Not all of ‘em died a drownin’, either. If you’re born to be hung you won’t be drowned.”
They floated in a boatload of silence, in reverence to all drowned sailors. [pg. 101]
The author says that Chad was “as frightened as if he’d laid his bare hand against the face of a vampire.” [pg. 58]
‘Heck’ is used twice, ‘Lawd knows’ once.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret