Begin by Philip and Erin Ulrich has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “Growly Books” series.
Growly, a bear cub, lives with his parents in the village of Haven. Growly is close to his family, as well as special friends like the grandmotherly Merridy and her adopted granddaughter, Ember. On the day the story begins, Growly and Ember are preparing to leave for their coming-of-age adventures, as is the tradition for every cub in Haven. Each will hang glide into one of the mountain valleys and live on his or her own for three months. When they return, they will be considered Young Bears. Growly imagines someday making Ember his wife.
Before the cubs leave, Merridy sees a bird she believes was sent by her lost love, C.J. The adventurous C.J. was Growly’s grandpa’s best friend. Many years earlier, C.J. hang glided over The Precipice and hadn’t been seen since. No bear has ever found a way back up from The Precipice. Merridy believes the bird is telling her C.J. is in danger.
With much fanfare, family and townspeople see the adventurers off. Growly glides along for a while until he catches sight of the bird Merridy mentioned. Using fluttering movements, the bird indicates C.J. needs help. Growly follows the bird into a storm. He crash-lands, loses his pack and begins to cry in the rain.
When he recovers, he sees a strange creature across the stream. The two are able to bridge the language barrier enough for Growly to learn his new friend is a monkey named Chippy. Chippy finds Growly’s pack, and Growly shares his food. When Growly explains he’s looking for a bear named C.J., Chippy takes him back to his village. This requires them to zipline downward through the forest on a series of cables. Growly falls into a lake at the bottom and is rescued by monkeys from Chippy’s village.
Chippy introduces Growly to his fellow villagers, most of who can’t communicate much in bear language. A librarian named Meegwin, however, speaks nearly perfect bear. He says C.J. lived in their village many years ago and became his good friend. He allows Growly to stay in the home where C.J. lived.
Meegwin says C.J. left in search of human explorers who had once landed in Haven. He believed if he could find them, maybe he could learn how to get home. The place where C.J. headed would take many days to reach. Chippy reveals he knows a way they could get there more quickly. It will mean a dangerous trip through whitewater and a narrow cave, but Chippy’s villagers agree it’s the only option if C.J. needs help. Chippy and his friends build custom-made boats for Chippy and C.J., and they take the harrowing journey into the mouth of the cave.
On the other side of the cave, they see a village. Growly leaves Chippy in the forest for the monkey’s safety. As Growly enters the outskirts, he’s intrigued by a man’s field and offers to dig for him. This act of kindness immediately endears him to the townspeople. A leader named Courtland says C.J. was there and lived with him for nearly three years. He says C.J. was looking for descendants of the people who explored Haven thousands of years ago.
When he realized Courtland’s townspeople weren’t related to the explorers, he began taking short trips along the coast. Two years earlier, he had found a message on a buried stone wall indicating the explorers he sought once had a settlement farther south. He left to follow this lead, and Courtland hadn’t seen him since. Courtland and his wife point Growly in the right direction to follow C.J.’s trail.
Back in the forest, Growly ponders what to do about Chippy. If C.J. went to sea, Growly doesn’t know how long it will take him to follow. He doesn’t want to keep Chippy from his true love, friends and family. He leaves a note where Chippy will find it, urging the monkey to return to his village.
Growly is reunited with C.J.’s bird, who leads him to a cave containing broken boats and C.J.’s writings. C.J. believes the explorers left suddenly for an island near the land from which they came. C.J. is sailing off to find them.
Growly wants to follow, but he discovers the boats around him are crumbling. He doesn’t know how to make one on his own. The bird disappears for several days, and Growly tries his hand at boat building without success. He feels discouraged until the bird returns with Chippy in a boat. The two look out over the water and ponder the adventure that lies ahead of them.
Growly’s proud parents, grandparents and friends support him as he begins his journey to adulthood. Adult leaders in Growly’s city and other cities he visits treat him with respect and help him obtain the resources he needs to find C.J.
Growly crash-lands in a forest.
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