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Animal fantasy is not normally my thing, but this Cybils finalist avoided many of the usual pitfalls and was unexpectedly charming.
Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins. Harper Collins Childrens, 2014.
Some young squirrel friends are playing together, when their antics unexpectedly result in one friend, Jed, being carried away by a hawk. Watching closely, TsTs and Chai see him fall far away, and decide to try to rescue him. But as they try to follow the “buzzpaths” to find him, they witness a new danger: the loud machines that are destroying the forest around the buzzpaths. Will they find Jed? And will they be able to stay on task long enough to warn the other animals of the coming danger?
So in general (Mouseguard being the big exception), I don’t really care for the epic struggles of anthropomorphized animals. Nuts to You worked largely because the squirrels really feel like squirrels, and their struggles are eminently believable. They are wired to play and to look for nuts, and it’s really hard for them to stay focused on anything else, even things as important as rescuing their friends. (That might make this a very relatable choice especially for kids with ADD!) And while part of the forest being chopped down isn’t the ascent of an evil wizard or the end of the world, it is the perfect scale of danger to be terrifying to a squirrel. I also appreciated the squirrel names, which sound so very much like the noises that squirrels make – especially TsTs and the new friend they make, Tchke. The pencil illustrations complement the story perfectly. It’s a story of drama, adventure, and friendship balanced with squirrel silliness that feels both exotic and familiar.
See also reviews from fellow Cybils panelists Charlotte at Charlotte’s Library
Sondra at Sonderbooks
Sherry at Semicolon