Big Red Critical Context - Essay

Jim Kjelgaard

Critical Context

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Big Red, Jim Kjelgaard’s third novel, was published in April, 1945, by Holiday House, with illustrations by Bob Kuhn. In writing the book, Kjelgaard made use of his own experiences as a woodsman and a lover of Irish setters. The book has been enduringly popular, with a paperback edition published by Scholastic Book Services that was widely available to schoolchildren in the 1960’s. By the 1990’s, the hardcover was still in print and Bantam’s trade paperback edition had more than twenty-five printings. Big Red earned for Kjelgaard an award from the Boys Club of America. Among his many other books about dogs, other animals, young men, and the outdoors are two more about Irish setters, both featuring sons of Red. In Irish Red (1951), the future of Danny, Ross, and the dogs depends on the least promising of Red and Sheilah’s pups. In Outlaw Red (1953), a troubled young man forms a close bond with another of Red and Sheilah’s offspring, but these two find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

In 1962, the Disney Studios released a film version of Big Red, directed by Norman Tokar from a script by Louis Pelletier. Although entertaining, the film has a different plot from the book. In the film, the story takes place in Quebec and is cast in the form of Red’s escape from being sold and his quest to return to the young boy he loves.