Thirteen Running Deer
A subtle and sophisticated story about a sister and brother who resolve their differences with the help of fantasy animals
There are plenty of children’s books about imaginary friends, but this poetic tale is just a little bit different. The fantasy creatures that appear to Moonie and her brother Raf are like totem animals, symbolizing their characters. They help Moonie to become more self-confident and Raf to control his anger.
Moonie is staring at a vase one day when thirteen tiny blue deer come trotting out of it. They climb up her arms and their foot¬steps leave dents in her sleeve. And before they disappear into her hood, one of them whispers respectfully in Moonie’s ear, ‘Duchess.’
This mysterious beginning immediately intrigues the reader. The deer do not turn out to be friends in whom Moonie can confide and they don’t come when she calls. They reflect her own character: jumpy, timid, sweet and fragile.
Moonie’s explosive brother Raf is completely different. He has a ‘short fuse’ and often gets ‘fired up’. And when that happens, he stamps and yells. Usually, Moonie doesn’t complain and she just lets Raf get on with it, but the blue deer give her more confidence. ‘She had risen higher. She had become more important,’ because of course she has a very special secret that shines within her, like an ‘inner sun’.
Raf immediately understands what’s going on, because an animal once appeared to him as well. After he confesses his secret to Moonie, she feels that the two of them have more in common than before, even though it seems to make Raf angrier than ever.
A subtle psychological shift takes place both within and between Moon and Raf, and Van de Vendel builds this up subtly and accessibly in his short, rhythmic sentences. ‘Our Moon has grown,’ says Mum. But when Dad takes out the tape measure, she’s not even one centimetre taller. It is inside that she has grown.
The story culminates in a thrilling showdown between Raf ’s animal, a roaring lion, and Moon’s deer. And it turns out that Raf is also looking for confirmation that he matters and that he’s important too.
There are colour illustrations on every page by the young Flemish artist Mattias De Leeuw. The deer and the other animals are drawn fluidly, without any outlines, and their movements capture a range of emotions.