by Lynne Rae Perkins
First sentence: “One mild day in early November, I took my lunch down to the waterwheel park.”
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Content: There are short chapters, lots of illustrations, and it’s pretty basic vocabulary-wise. Which means it’s perfect for the younger readers as well as those who struggle. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.
The book starts out inauspicious enough: the author having lunch on a picnic bench. But then, a squirrel comes up and, after a bit, begins talking to her. He tells her a fantastic story of adventure, of friendship, and of bravery.
Jed the squirrel was minding his own business, really, when he was picked up by a hawk. He manages to escape with some quick thinking (and the ancient squirrel martial art of Hai Tchree), he manages to escape, falling into an unknown part of the forest. Meanwhile his two best friends, TsTs and Chai, have seen Jed’s daring escape, and they head out into the forest to find him.
It sounds horribly corny, doesn’t it? I’ve been putting this book off for months just because 1) talking squirrels?? 2) really??? But trust me: it’s adorable. The squirrels talk to each other, true, but the only reason they talked to the “author” was because they’ve learned English over the years. No magic. Promise. Even so, the way Perkins has imagined the forest is charming, believably true to the animals she portrays, and just delightful.
There are a couple of reasons why. First, it’s the friendship between Jed, Chai (who’s a delightful character in his own right), and TsTs is a wonderful one. They will do just about anything for each other, and they work better together as a team. Second, the footnotes and asides had me cracking up. The voice Perkins chooses to tell this story is part of what makes it so perfect. Third, the illustrations help give the text just the right boost from weird and corny to adorable and fun.
Sure, there are some downsides: the environmental message at the end is a bit tacked on and heavy-handed. And the jokes and asides will probably drive those who dislike intrusive narrators bonkers. But I was completely won over and just wanted to hug the book in the end.