The story is powerful but understated, so that it's depths might be easy to miss if you aren't paying attention. It's told in the small details. Its power is in much of what goes unsaid and undone. So many moments had me on the point of tears.
This is the story of a father back from the war who has been gone so long he's become a stranger to his little girl. He doesn't know her favorite food is cherry pie, which he would if he'd been there... mama put candles on a pie for her last birthday. He's trying to reconnect so he takes her hunting with him, a special day for the two of them, inspired perhaps by her yearning for a hunting shirt she'd seen in a store window. But she is a little frightened by this stranger with a gun, a hunter, by the potential for violence she senses in him. In the most moving exchange she asks him if he's ever scared and he confesses that when he was away in the war he was; but now he is not afraid, he's the pillar of strength that his daughter can rely on. He understands her fears, however. And so, though he explains to her the necessity of killing the crows to protect the crops and addresses her concerns about the baby crows (long grown up and forgotten by their parents), he still refrains from shooting them that day.
The ending only seems anticlimactic if you've missed the undercurrents of emotion that make his restraint a remarkable gift to his daughter. The story shows how he's been desensitized from violence by the war and how she re-sensitizes him. It is deep and momentous, a shift from being a man of war to a man of peace. A poignant
moment in which the daughter becomes her father's teacher.
The book is full of warmth and humor. The joke the father and daughter share when the waitress mistakes her for a boy, the variety of other calls they make for each other: a cow call (moo), a bear call (grrr)... a giraffe call (no noise, just an outstretched neck). The illustration shows the father stretching out his neck with a hilarious giraffe expression on his face.
The story is beautiful enough to stand on its own; but the gorgeous illustrations, inspired by Andrew Wyeth, tel a story all on their own, could stand without the text. They create setting and a mood, dark somber autumnal; but also wonderful characterization. The interchanges between the father and daughter, the subtle expressions on their faces that reveal humor, fear, trust are conversations in themselves that need no words.