My ignorance will show here. I only ever knew this as a Disney film and only recently discovered its origins in literature. And that really is a shame. This novel really isn't for the demographic the film is aimed at, but it's a book I would want my own child to read before childhood's end.
More overtly than the book, we learn about the changing and cruel seasons, the danger of man (He), innocence and maturity, relationships and death. Quite a broad spectrum for a 200 page children's story about a deer.
And he is a dear. Little Bambi is much loved, and is born into a beautiful forest idyll, enchanted by the animals and world around him. There is no Thumper or Flower, but Faline (and her clearly doomed twin brother Gobo) is as lovely and sweet as you remember from the cartoon. We follow his growth to adolescent, to his first winter, encounters with the stag Prince, and yes, Man and his mother do meet. The scenes with humans in them are quite brutal, frightening and vivid - many friends die painful and protracted deaths, which for me prevents me from recommending this to children under eight.
The rituals of mating aren't shied away from, but nothing explicit is said, though adults reading will know what is going on.
In a pre-Lion King world, this really does show the circle of life in nature for all it is in reality - sometimes beautiful, sometimes inspiring, but often brutal and painful. Bambi's mother becomes distant, friends die at the hands of other friends, injuries are sustained, babies die.
You won't find twitterpating here, but you will find a beautiful account of the natural world that any childhood would benefit from reading. For adults too, seeing the innocent Bambi discover the joys and perils of his world is nostalgic, moving and riveting. The character of Gobo is especially poignant, in what is said and what is not said.
If you've never heard of this (like me!), it really is worth seeking out. The world needs its Disney, but it's important not to wash over the realities of life and over-protect young minds from the world. Especially when the writing is as good as it is here. Highly recommended.
I bought this book after being recommended it in a blog I read, with the feeling that it was going to be a reflection Disney's rendition of the story. However, there was much more to the book than the film; one gets to know the characters in more depth and the storyline is much deeper and more exciting, and entirely different in some places (in a good way). This is in fact THE best book I have ever read. I promised myself before reading it that I wouldn't cry (as I had cried in the movie), but I broke that promise. The print isn't the best quality, but it was still very much readable, so that doesn't really matter!