Squirrel vs. nut

Aw, Nuts!

By Rob McClurkan

Harper 2014


Come September, I’m always on the lookout for quality fall-themed picture books that work well as a read aloud. There is an abundance of books with leaves, pumpkins, squirrels, or scarecrows but not a lot that will keep the attention of a classroom of kindergartners who just had fruit loops & powdered doughnuts for breakfast.

Then I came across a copy of Aw, Nuts! and figure kids will basically get hooked solely on the exaggerated frustration the title implies. Of course the squirrel narrator utters “Aw, nuts!” no less than ten times throughout the slapstick story of a squirrel who doesn’t quite understand that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.


Check out the book trailer

If you like contrasting could things get any crazier/Whew! structuring of this story I would also recommend Remy Charlip’s adventurous book Fortunately (1964).



Best Thing I’ve Read All Week

The Farmer and the Clown 

by Marla Frazee

Beach Lane Books 2014


Tenderhearted book about the kindness of strangers. No words are needed to tell the story of a young clown who is separated from his circus train and the farmer who takes care of him. Readers follow both characters as they are transformed by their friendship.


What kind of superhero types?

Kate DiCamillo just won her second Newberry Award for a story of a girl and her superhero squirrel. She created a cast of quirky characters that slowly rolls out through mishaps, dissappointments, as well as small victories. 



Flora Belle Buckman is a bit of an outsider and self-proclaimed cynic living with her mother, an often preoccupied recently divorced romance novelist. She spends much of her time reading and throughout the book references her favorite superhero comic and a work of nonfiction titled “Terrible Things Can Happen To You!” The story begins at the start of summer vacation whereabouts on one afternoon her reading becomes disturbed by the sound of neighbors vacuuming their yard. Somethings strikes Flora as odd about this and she looks out her window just in time to see a squirrel being vacuumed up.



After the incident, we gain an unusual vantage that being the squirrel’s perspective. “His brain felt larger, roomier. It was as if several doors in the dark room of his self (doors he hadn’t known existed) had suddenly been flung wide.” Not only has the squirrel has gained in consciousness but also in super rodent powers. He is surprisingly now strong enough to pick up the out of control vacuum and lift it over his tiny head. Other abilities come into play with flying being the least remarkable.


Flora finds herself drawn to care for the injured squirrel and decides to name him Ulysses and likens his transformation to that of the hero in her beloved comic. We are introduced to William Spiver the (questionably) temporarily blind great-nephew of Flora’s vacuuming neighbor Tootie Tickham. And Mary Ann, an ornamental shepherdess lamp quite possibly treasured more than Flora by her own mother.  We meet Flora’s socially anxious father George Buckman who bonds with his daughter by using comic book catchphrases that pepper the book such as “Holy unanticipated occurrences” and “This malfeasance must be stopped.”

 Along the way Flora’s mother takes up a campaign to snuff out the squirrel and hands her ex-husband the shovel to do it with thus cementing her status as the villain of the book.

 There is a lot of loneliness in this menagerie. And a lot of snacks. With sprinkles even.

Endearing pencil drawings of K.G. Campbell that “illuminate” Flora and Ulysses. They have a soft and kind quality that mirror the way the characters in the story slowly begin to interact with one another. Sometimes scenes are enacted in comic panels and othertimes small or full page illustrations accent DiCamillo’s writing.

 It wasn’t until the very last page that I felt the overall effect. It wasn’t nearly the tearjerker that was The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane or as great an adventure as The Tale of Despereaux but it left me with a happy feeling and a definite tendency to look a little closer at the squirrels.



sporks & spoons


by Amy Krauss Rosenthal

Hyperion 2009

All my friends have it so much better than me.” Who hasn’t sang that song at least once or twice?

 This feeling of incompleteness is at the center of our story, where young Spoon is in desperate need of someone to polish his ego. The illustrator provides a glimpse of the exciting times  had by the other folks that share the cutlery drawer. We’re shown forks lassoing spaghetti, chopsticks that tango among the sushi rolls with precision, and knives happily spreading jam on bread. All culinary feats never, ever achieved with a spoon.

 Lucky for him, Mama Spoon is around to reassure her boy that life is indeed grand for their kind. She helps Spoon work through his envy of the other utensils by pointing out what makes him special.  “Your friends will never be able to twirl around in a mug or relax in a hot cup of tea.” And she’s right, you can’t eat ice cream with a knife.

 Mama Spoon ponders to her son, “I wonder if you realize just how lucky you are?” Everyone needs someone to remind them of this time to time, and Rosenthal’s Spoon aims to tell parents that their children need to be tenderly polished not unlike little Spoon.

 And of course, the book doesn’t end without some spooning.


by Kyo Maclear

Kids Can Press 2010

Spork stuck out.  His mother a spoon, his father a fork, which made him one of a kind in the kitchen drawer they called home. He routinely gets asked, “What are you anyway?”  an experience taken from multiracial author Kyo Maclear’s own life.

A sweet faced little guy. Too round for some, too pointy for others, but perfect in circumstances where nothing else would do. He’s like the kid who never gets picked at kickball. That is, until a new and very messy customer comes to the table giving Spork a chance to prove his utility.

With very similar messages and formats, it would be easy to confuse Rosenthal’s Spoon with Maclear’s Spork. Both books have style and endearing cartoonish leads, but the lovely mixed media illustrations in Spork make it my favorite to look through.

who’s the boss?

Close to a year ago, I was a fresh out the maternity ward mama. Those first few weeks are so full. You will be as exhausted as you are in love, and there’s a whole lot of love. 

You are at the mercy of your newborn. There is no doubt who is in charge.  It’s the baby.

Last year, Maria Frazee illustrated All the World, which although everyone else seemed to adore, it only made me want to vomit up three decade old shards of my We Are the World cassette.  The sap wasn’t her fault, she just drew the pictures- and got a big fat Caldecott Honor medal for it.

But man, The Boss Baby is spot on. It’s got new parents pegged. And once you’ve figured out the mystery that is your new bundle, you will find it funny too.

Love the executive onesie and adorable ending.