Greenwillow Books, $16.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 0060092750, August 2014
Jed, TsTs, and Chai are the very best of friends. So when Jed is snatched up by a hawk and carried away to another realm, TsTs and Chai resolve to go after him. Mysteriously, the hawk has dropped him. They saw it. Jed could be alive. New communities are discovered, new friends made, huge danger is encountered (both man-made and of the fox and bobcat variety) and the mysteries of squirrel culture are revealed. It turns out that squirrels are steadfast and fun-loving. It turns out they adore peanut butter. It turns out they love games and really good stories. And nuts.
Is it my imagination, or are squirrels having their moment right now?
Instead of the superpowered squirrel from Flora and Ulysses, Perkins offers us an in-depth look at squirrel culture. Three little squirrels wind up on the adventure of a lifetime when one of their number is dropped in another territory, where the local squirrels look and talk differently and eat different seeds. His two best friends go on a rescue mission, but their happy reunion is broken up when they realize humans are cutting down their trees. Suddenly they find themselves on a mission, if not to save the world, then at least to warn it.
Perkins holds nothing back, explaining squirrel idioms, habits, and even pronunciations (TsTs is two clicks of the tongue and has a popularity quotient analogous to the name Emma). The plot itself is nothing mind-bending, and even young readers will probably predict how the squirrels can save the day, but the plot’s almost beside the point. While I wouldn’t say this does for squirrels quite what Watership Down did for rabbits, you might call it the junior version. Fast-moving, funny, and willing to embrace the humorous footnote, Nuts to You should find a ready audience among fans of animal stories, although some of the squirrels talk in an almost Cockney dialect that weaker readers may find tough to parse. (My tip: Tell struggling readers to sound out the words aloud and listen to what comes out of their own mouths; it’s how I survived Bob, Son of Battle when I was younger.) A light, bouncy story of bravery, friendship, and games. Nuts to us all!
Recommend to: Fans of True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp and other talking animal tales, though this isn’t serious like Erin Hunter’s series
To buy or not to buy: Buy, just don’t confuse it with Lois Ehlert’s picture book Nuts to You. Unless you haven’t bought that one yet, in which case, for shame. Get them both!