"Little Women," "Ramona," "My Friend Flicka" - all were crafted as "adult" novels but endure as stories for young readers.

This demeans them in no way; their narrative directness and stylistic simplicity are virtues, and their youthful protagonists lure through the identification factor those adolescents progressing toward "grown-up" fiction.The authors of the aforementioned trio all were women; so was the author of the work in primary focus here. She was Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1955), and her third novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1938 after selling well to an adult constituency.

Yet Rawlings' "The Yearling" today is most readily identified as a classic for juveniles. Along with Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island" and "Kidnapped" and some other notable works consciously addressed to literate children, "The Yearling" was reissued by Scribner's in a luxurious edition ennobled by N.C. Wyeth's paintings.

That children are drawn to "The Yearling" is good, but this novel of northern Florida's scrub country should not be shunned by mature readers. They are likely to be impressed by the moral lesson Rawlings imparts, although her narrative is not a sermon - as is, for one, Johanna Spyri's "Heidi."

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings may be less than a so-called "major" writer and she usually is considered in the realm of "regional" authorship, which should not diminish literary artistry, yet somehow does in the critical imagination.

This writer seems also to have become misrepresented by the popular conception of her. She was not an unlettered backwoods woman revealing her own poverty and crude culture in her fiction. She wrote not of what she experienced but of what she observed.

Marjorie Kinnan was born in Washington, D.C., took a degree in English at the University of Wisconsin, and for an even decade was a working journalist for eastern newspapers and magazines. After she married Charles Rawlings, they relocated in Florida in 1928, prospering there as orange-grove farmers. Poverty was all around them at Cross Creek, but Marjorie Rawlings was captivated by the spirit and vitality of her neighbors eking a marginal existence from the land.

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She began writing stories and sketches depicting her almost unknown slice of Florida. This led to her being essentially discovered by Maxwell Perkins, the fabled editor at Scribner's. Max Perkins is known primarily for nurturing the imposing Hemingway-Fitzgerald-Wolfe triumvirate, but he was also quite effective with female writers, including Taylor Caldwell, whom he guided into commercial stardom. The Perkins correspondence, collected between hardcovers, discloses the editor's pride as catalyst for Marjorie Rawlings' development as a novelist.

"South Moon Under" (1933) and "Golden Apples" (1935), both set in primitive Florida, established her promise. "The Yearling" signaled fulfillment, and also marked her peak; she believed that afterward, she was "spooked" by its success, and with less success she wrote of other locales. She did, however, produce another near-classic, with the quasi-fictional/autobiographical "Cross Creek" (1942).

"The Yearling," though, is Marjorie Rawlings' monument. It is the story of the Baxters, a hard-pressed farm family - stalwart father, practical mother, and lonely 12-year-old son. The boy, Jody, finds an orphaned fawn and gains companionship from this unlikely pet.

Bliss eventually yields to tragedy. When the yearling deer begins destroying the family's meager crops, Penny Baxter orders his son to shoot his pet. So it's a rite-of-passage tale, with Jody gaining his manhood by dutifully killing the thing he loves. A tear-jerker, yes, but without artifice; Rawlings' people are real.

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