And Then I Read: BANNER IN THE SKY

© James Ramsey Ullman, cover illustration by Wendell Minor.

I remember seeing this book many times over the years, it was a Newbery Honor Book in 1955, and I’m sure was in our grade school library. Disney made a film version that I remember seeing on TV, but I never read it until recently.

Rudi Matt lives in a town high in the Alps surrounded by tall peaks, and the men of the town have become guides for mountain climbers over recent decades. Rudi’s father Josef was one of the best until he died along with his climber client trying to reach the top of a mountain called The Citadel. Rudi wants desperately to follow in his father’s footsteps (literally) but his mother won’t hear of it, and his uncle, another guide, also refuses to let Rudi climb with him. Rudi has a job at a local hotel washing dishes, and his mother wants him to pursue a career there, but Rudi is always sneaking away to climb the lower mountains.

While out doing that one day, he rescues a climber, Captain Winter, who has fallen into a crevasse in a glacier. Rudi doesn’t have the proper climbing gear, making the attempt much more difficult, but after some thrilling and tense moments, the man and boy are able to return safely. Captain Winter is very impressed with Rudi’s abilities, and talks Rudi’s mother and uncle into letting him come on a climb to the top of a much lower and easier peak than The Citadel. Rudi is over the moon with excitement, but on that climb he makes a big mistake that puts everyone in a great deal of danger. Soon, Rudi is back washing dishes.

Captain Winter is determined to attempt The Citadel, though he has to go to another village to find a guide willing to try it. When Rudi learns of their attempt, he runs away from home to join them, lying to Captain Winter about having permission from home. The climb that follows is truly epic and full of drama and excitement.

While the human relationships in this story are fairly predictable, the writing about climbing is terrific, and kept me turning pages and wondering how they would get out of one fix after another. A Newbery Honor Book is usually a good read, and this one is no exception.

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