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Children’s Early Graphic Novel – Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell

 

SCAREDY SQUIRREL IN A NUTSHELL
(Book #1 in Scaredy’s Nutty Adventures)

By Melanie Watt

(Penguin Random BYR; $12.99, Ages 6-9)

 

 

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WARNING! This book is absolutely … NUTS!

Award-winning author and illustrator Melanie Watt, well known for her Scaredy Squirrel picture book series, has created her first graphic novel, Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell, featuring a squirrel beset by many (and often improbable) fears about life outside his beloved nut tree. To his credit, Scaredy Squirrel confronts each challenge with an elaborate and hilarious action plan that’s often doomed to failure. From the potential alien landing to deadly dust bunnies, Scaredy Squirrel not only has a plan but a backup as well (play dead). 

Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell tree Page 2
Interior art from Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell written and illustrated by Melanie Watt, Penguin Books for Young Readers ©2021.

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Since childhood, Scaredy Squirrel has kept himself and his nut tree safe from dreaded “trespassers” who could damage his tree. Who knows when a mammoth may want to uproot it? Or a cat might scratch it. So Scaredy Squirrel has developed a strategy to protect the tree. He places objects around his tree to distract the trespassers, such as a fake tree for the mammoth to uproot or a scratching post for the cat.

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Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell vacuum Page 4
Interior art from Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell written and illustrated by Melanie Watt, Penguin Books for Young Readers ©2021.

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However, there’s a downside to this ambitious plan: these objects get dusty and from the dust springs notorious dust bunnies! So this quick-thinking squirrel comes up with a detailed plan to prevent dust bunnies … vacuum all the decoy objects! All well and good until the vacuum gets clogged and now Scaredy Squirrel must develop a plan to unclog the vacuum cleaner. As you can imagine, more problems emerge which entail more plans and greater chaos. Inevitably (despite playing dead) he finds himself face to face with a real bunny who would like to be his friend. Which of course necessitates a new plan …

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Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell pompom Page 7
Interior art from Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell written and illustrated by Melanie Watt, Penguin Books for Young Readers ©2021.

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Watt’s familiar cartoon-like illustrations go nicely with the graphic novel format. Simple geometric shapes are used to create the characters and setting. Faces are wonderfully expressive. Panels are well organized on the pages with a clean and uncluttered look, making this book perfect for newly independent readers. Witty word plays and expressions such as “going out on a limb” and “dust bunnies,” keep the narrative lively and make this a good read-aloud as well. Delightfully quirky features include a “Nutty (Table of) Contents,” and some silly and interactive features to be taken before it is “safe” to begin the story. 

Parents, caregivers, and teachers are sure to appreciate that, despite the zany humor of the book, Scaredy Squirrel manages to demonstrate, in a light-hearted way, how children can face their fears and develop problem-solving skills such as writing down action plans, to face real-life challenges. While the age is listed as 6-9, younger children would certainly enjoy having the story read to them.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Click here and here to read more squirrel stories.

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Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman & Sergio Garcia Sanchez

Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure
Written by Nadja Spiegelman
Illustrated by Sergio Garcia Sanchez
(Toon Books; $16.95, Ages 8-12)
Also available in Spanish

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A Junior Library Guild Selection
Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal & Booklist

Ever gotten lost on a subway? In New York? I have and I’m from New York! But once you’ve navigated your way around and feel you’ve got the hang of the subway, it’s like you’re on top of the world, not 35 feet underground (like at the 42nd St. Station). You might never take the bus again.

intimageLostinNYC.jpgI’ll start this review by pointing out that a purchase of Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure, is like getting multiple books in one! First there’s the graphic novel adventure featuring Pablo, a boy new to both his school and to the city. Alicia, a classmate, volunteers to partner with him on a field trip to the Empire State Building using public transportation. At the uptown Manhattan subway station (96th St.), the pair get separated from their class and have to find their way alone. Eventually even Alicia and Pablo get separated which may seem frightening, but it’s never presented that way. In fact, it’s empowering for kids to see their peers commuting this way successfully. Demonstrating common sense, the two make tracks individually to the Empire State Building, one on foot, the other using a cross town train. Ultimately, across a crowded lobby, Pablo and Alicia are reunited in time to join the tour, running towards each other like in a scene from a film. They’re clearly overjoyed, but Mr. Bartles, their teacher, is not as impressed.

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Interior image from Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman with illustrations by Sergio Garcia Sanchez, Toon Books ©2015.

In addition to the adventure, there’s the budding friendship story. As the bungled journey evolves, Pablo eventually comes to appreciate Alicia’s gesture of kindness to buddy up on the field trip which he so vehemently rejected at the beginning of the book.

“I was only trying help.” – Alicia
“Help?” – Pablo
“What makes you think I need help! I don’t need anything.” – Pablo
“I thought maybe you wanted a friend…” – Alicia

It’s through this friendship that Pablo is able to  look at New York with new eyes and begin to feel at home.

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Interior image from Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman with illustrations by Sergio Garcia Sanchez, Toon Books ©2015.

Another draw is the NYC subway system, like an extra character, with its express and local lines, the colorful maps, and the various stops or stations in the city. I was delighted to see my old subway stop in Queens even made it into the book! Fans of transportation trivia will enjoy the enlightening repartee between Mr. Bartle and his students as he educates them on their subway knowledge. I lived in New York for 30 years and had no idea why the Y and U letters were never used. After reading the fact-filled end pages I learned it’s because the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) worried the public would be confused thinking they sounded too much like “why” and “you.”

Last but not least is the inclusion of archival photographs from old New York taking readers back in time to the 1800s and into the 20th century for a glimpse of what early subway stations and construction on them looked like. There are also more details about the Empire State Building and a Further Reading & Resources for those who, like me, cannot resist finding out more about the Big Apple’s history. Author Spiegelman has packed a plethora of interesting information into this engaging and extremely original book. I had no idea that the Empire State Building, where my uncle once worked, has its own zip code (10118) and had its grand opening on May 1, 1931, 84 years ago today! Lost in NYC closes with Tips for Parents, Teachers, and Librarians to make young readers’ experience of diving into a TOON graphic novel more pleasurable.

I have to give a shout out to the amazingly detailed illustrations by Garcia Sanchez. My favorite is the angled perspective of the Empire State Building as the school children zoom up to the observation deck in one of seventy-three elevators. Early on I noticed a man taking photos in almost every scene, but I didn’t notice the policeman watching him. Sanchez, while on a reconnaissance mission for the book, must have aroused suspicion. In a humorous touch, the artist has cleverly inserted himself and the cop who followed him into the story so be on the lookout!  Between the diverse cast of characters, the compelling storyline and the excellent artwork, I have to say I am very happy to have found Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure. 

Click here to download a guide for teachers.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Bird & Squirrel on Ice by James Burks

Bird & Squirrel on Ice

Written and illustrated by James Burks

(Scholastic/Graphix; $8.99, Ages 7-10)

 

 

Bird & Squirrel on Ice cover

 

 

I knew I was in for a treat when I picked up James Burks’ most recent Bird & Squirrel graphic novel called Bird & Squirrel on Ice. This second book in the series brings the buddies to the South Pole where they’ve crash-landed, despite Bird’s over-confident insistence on calling it “Another perfect landing!” They immediately encounter spear-wielding Sakari, an absolutely adorable purple-hued penguin who proclaims Bird to be The Chosen One.

“Legend tells of a day when a winged bird will fall from above …
And bring peace and prosperity to our penguin village.”

But there’s a catch. Being The Chosen One means battling to free the villagers from the voracious and exhausting appetite of The Great Whale. It doesn’t take long before the honor of becoming The Chosen One goes straight to Bird’s head, annoying the heck out of Squirrel. However, Bird’s antics while soaking up his newly found celebrity, will crack kids up! Burks definitely gets the mix of humor and adventure right in Bird & Squirrel on Ice, and is certain to pull in even reluctant readers. His colorful characters, gallivanting through panels filled with lots of chilly blues, are perfect for the South Pole setting. Scenes of ice and snow are fantastic as are all the ones including the penguin villagers and The Great Whale.

When Squirrel and Sakari learn that Bird is actually going to be sacrificed to appease the whale “for the good of the village,” these two team up and eventually get a rather reluctant Bird on board. The buddies and their penguin pal launch a last-ditch effort to save Bird from being served up as whale food and in doing so demonstrate the bonds of friendship and trust.  This fast-paced story with its fantastic artwork and several satisfying plotlines invites multiple reads for those just getting into graphic novels, as well as for those more well-versed in the pleasures of this format.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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A Very Odd Couple Indeed

Bird & Squirrel: On the Run! ($8.99, Scholastic, Ages 7-9) is the humorous story of  a squirrel, a bird and one very aggressive cat.  Author/illustrator James Burks STK466877used his 15 years of animation experience to create this most entertaining, fast action graphic novel for young readers.

Squirrel, who is blue with a square head covered with an acorn top, is busy hoarding acorns to prepare for the long winter ahead. He bumps into goggle-wearing Bird, who wants desperately to befriend Squirrel and even travel together. But Squirrel is just not interested – that is until he has to unload his stash of acorns to save Bird from the big, mean, orange Cat. With no food for winter, Squirrel has no choice but to head south with Bird to a warmer place. So he packs everything he owns (which is a lot!), and the two set out on their way. The entire book revolves around the challenges Bird and Squirrel face while trying to dodge Cat’s attempts to eat them. With one rather frustrating, yet hilarious adventure after another, Bird and Squirrel do all they can to survive.

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The cartoon illustrations are crisp, bold and so much fun to look at. I was happy to discover that both the words and the pictures are of equal importance to the story. Because there are so many illustrations, graphic children’s novels like this can really encourage reluctant readers to get interested in reading a book. The story is entertaining, adorable, and Squirrel and Bird remind me a bit of the unlikely friendship of the amusing characters in the Odd Couple. Despite their differences, they work together to reach their goal, and I promise you will be enchanted by the way this adorable story ends.

-Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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