Squirrel It Away

I just found out that January 21st is National Squirrel Appreciation Day. Frankly, I am not sure what there is to appreciate in squirrels aside from cuteness except that… apparently, they greet each other with a kiss. And a family of albino squirrels living in my neighborhood delighted my daughters when they were preschoolers. Oh, and one can admire their perseverance and ingenuity: When I was a child we had a supposedly squirrel-proof birdfeeder. Before long, the little animals were climbing up a drainpipe, launching themselves against the side of the house, and ricocheting to the feeder to grab a mouthful of seed.

The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin by Beatrix Potter

Then I recalled one of my earliest memories of being read to—The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin by Beatrix Potter, the story of one of the naughtiest squirrels in fiction who teases the wise old owl until the bird exacts a fitting revenge. Nutkin was a squirrel I could appreciate.

That set me on a search for more picture books about squirrels—and I found a scurry or, if you prefer the other collective noun for a group of squirrels, a dray. (I like scurry as it gives an excellent image of the creatures busily rushing about.)

In the picture books aisle, there is a whole series by Melanie Watt about Scaredy Squirrel, a germophobic squirrel facing the world. He visits the beach and prepares for the winter holidays, among other adventures. The one that really tickled my funny bone is Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping. Our furry friend braves the camp grounds (and a miniature golf course) to find an electric outlet as part of his plan to toast marshmallows without having to actually go camping. The illustrations include comic check lists and maps.

A very timely book, Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution by Pat Miller, is about a little girl who feels left out as she discovers that all her friends have made something called New Year’s resolutions. Starting at the library, she sets out to find out what resolutions are and if she can have one. The text is accompanied by cheerful pictures by Kathi Ember.

Another seasonal book, this one about autumn, is Anita Loughrey and Daniel Howarth’s Squirrel’s Fall Search. Poor Squirrel and his little brother have so much fun chasing each other through the woods that they forget where they have hidden their food. As the other animals help Squirrel with his search, the reader explores the autumnal woods through vivid illustrations. At the end of the book are a list of questions for the child and fall activities to enjoy together.

Miss You Like Crazy by Pamela Hall and illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell is an endearing story about Walnut and her mother. When her mother goes to work, Walnut wonders if her mother will miss her. Together they make up a magical tale about a miniature Walnut going to her mother’s office, nicely depicted in whimsical water colors. At the end of the book, Mother has come up with a way for Walnut to cope with missing her like crazy.

Beginning readers will enjoy Squirrels on Skis by J. Hamilton Ray, with cartoon like illustrations by Pascal Lemaitre. This rhyme recounts how the squirrels of one town suddenly began to ski and of the mayhem that resulted.

A final adventure for little ones is Earl the Squirrel, a manuscript discovered among the papers of Don Freeman, the creator of Corduroy. With black, white and red scratchboard illustrations accompanying a brisk text, we see what happens when Earl’s mother announces it is time for him to leave the nest and find his own nuts. With help from his human friend Jill, Earl survives in an encounter with a bull and finds more acorns than any one little squirrel could ever use.

Triss by Brian Jacques

And for older readers, there is Triss, the story of a brave squirrelmaid who escapes from the evil ferret King Agarnu. She stumbles upon Redwall Abbey, the setting of many of Brian Jacques fantasy stories about animal warriors and heroes. These stories were made to be listened to, having first been told to children at the Royal Wavertree School for the Blind, where Brian Jacques once delivered milk. Mercer County Library System owns the book on compact disc with a full cast narration. It is a real pleasure to listen to Mr. Jacques narrate in his Scouce (Liverpool)-accented English.

As I have written this, one more story about squirrels has popped into my mind—a true one. When I was little, I had a fireplace in my bedroom. One day a squirrel fell from the chimney into the ashes and scurried around the room. It left little black foot prints (that could never be quite cleaned from the white paint on the mantelpiece.) At last I had the presence of mind to open a window, at which point it scuttled out. I liked to think it ran home to its nest to tell the baby squirrels about its adventures in a human house.

Mary Elizabeth A.


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