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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Nuts to You, by Lynne Rae Perkins. Greenwillow Books, Harper. 2014. $21.00 ages 7 and up

"It could have been worse. It could have been - it could have been - there were any number of foul things it could have been. Still, when a squirrel tries to feel grateful to have landed in sick owl barf, he is not having his best day. When he had cleaned his fur as well as he could, Chai stood up. Ready to go again. Which was when he felt he was being observed."

I have often wondered what the squirrels are thinking as they cross back and forth on the 'buzz-paths' (power lines) in the lane behind my house. They scurry from one place to another, cheek pockets filled with peanuts from my neighbor's stash and disappear. Some time sooner or later, they pop back up on the lines and do it all over again. Do they talk to each other as the squirrels in Lynne Rae Perkins' Nuts to You do? I like to think that they do.

Ms. Perkins makes a case for squirrel communication in an author's note at the beginning of her new, and very captivating, tale:

"I was watching the carefree squirrels when, all at once, one of them jumped onto the end of the bench where I was sitting and looked with interest at me, and then, meaningfully, at my sandwich. Quite calmly, he stepped closer. That's bold, I thought. A little too bold. I tore off a bit of my sandwich and was about to chuck it as far as I could, figuring he would take off after it, when he spoke."

Imagine the surprise! That burst of imagination, I suspect, was the impetus for a story about Jed, the lead squirrel in this humorous and entertaining account. One day, without warning, Jed is scooped up by a hawk and carried away. Quick thinking on his part leads to his release and a tumble into a parts unknown, and a long way from home. Luckily, his descent is seen and its location taken note of by an observant friend:

"I saw him fall, Chai," she said. "The hawk dropped him. Just past the unnatural shape."

It turns out that the 'unnatural shape' is the third  'tall frozen spiderweb' (the electric tower that connects the 'buzz paths'). Since they know the direction they need to go to save their friend, they are off! So begins an adventure that is sure to captivate, and have listeners wanting 'just one more chapter' until the reading is done. They will savor the story and its humor long after that first reading, and might even want to read it all over again. It's a great family, and classroom, read!

When Jed is found, with some of his own stories to tell and a need to get back home, the group sets out only to be hampered by a bit of an environmental crisis that has them scampering from the imminent danger. Will they get their friends and neightbors to safety in time, and how will they do it?

These are wonderful characters, captured with such sincerity that you can almost imagine yourself speaking to any squirrels you might happen to meet in your backyard in coming days. You will know just what to say! Footnotes are shared wherever needed, to explain what we might not understand of squirrel communication and thought. The author's book cover and internal artwork are just as appealing and witty as her story. Don't miss it...

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