Rarely do I see squirrels scampering across either the front or back yard of my home. They prefer to stay among the tops of the trees, but I know they've been busy. This spring I had multiple, more than ever, small hickory trees growing everywhere, sprouting from purposefully planted nuts. I'm pretty sure there isn't even a hickory tree in the entire neighborhood!
The other morning, when working in the large back garden, before the sun came up, a fierce chattering started and continued for nearly an hour. Whenever you hear excited squirrel speak, you know trouble is afoot. David Ezra Stein has cleverly caught, with boundless humor, the persistence, protective passion of a fearless parent in Ol' Mama Squirrel (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.).
Ol' Mama Squirrel had raised many babies.
With all this experience comes wisdom. Deep in her heart she knows baby squirrel is a delicacy for more than one critter. But woe unto anyone or anything that comes near her little ones.
At the slightest encroachment near her happy hole you can hear---
"Chook, chook, chook!
Cats, owls, and dogs are no match for her ferociousness. In fact, the panicked pooch thinks she's a nut case.
She does not limit her endeavors to the living either. A wayward kite and the latest flight between airports passing overhead receive her most verbal contempt. One day though, an intruder challenges Ol' Mama Squirrel.
Her normal antics for striking fear in the hearts of her adversaries is not working on this wayward grizzly bear. Pitching old nuts at him elicits laughter from this menace. There's only one thing left for Ol' Mama Squirrel to do...and she does it well.
When you visit David Ezra Stein's website, it says:
Funny, With Love
which is the essence of all his books. In this title the tone generated by his word choices of Ol' Mama Squirrel is laid-back country. Readers can't help but feel a kinship with and an appreciation for her bravery and determination. Stein's use of repetitive phrases when danger approaches (and leaves) are an open invitation for participation.
While the matching jacket and cover on the front show a contented familial moment, the back names the three babies sitting in a row on a branch with the fist shaking Mama below shouting out her word challenges. Light lime green opening and closing endpapers usher us into the leafy realm of the squirrels' world. The title page zooms in on Mama and her chargers inside the hole with an acorn between oak leaves beneath. The verso and first page give a more wide angle view of the tree within the surrounding city, cracked and broken acorns in the far left corner.
This is the description of how the illustrations were rendered as read on the verso.
The black lines in "Ol' Mama Squirrel" were created with a pencil dipped into ink. The lines were copied onto Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper, and watercolor and crayon were added. No squirrels were harmed in the making of this book.
There is much to love about the layout of this book; liberal use of white space to frame characters and action, items in a picture bleeding out the loosely drawn frames, small circular insets for emphasis, close-ups to intensify focus, and double page spreads to enhance a moment. Mama with her arm and paw motions, grumpy looks and open-mouthed tirades is guaranteed to induce outbursts of laughter. I think one of my favorite illustrations in the book is Mama charging full-speed ahead through the tree branches with two of the babies clinging to her back while the third rides behind her ears using them like reins. You should see the look on her face.
Ol' Mama Squirrel written and illustrated by Caldecott Honor winning David Ezra Stein is a peek at the lengths one mother goes to protect her children told with insight and laden with the fun he loves. Readers and listeners alike will be repeating the refrains as she frightens away each and every foe. She's a hero in any world.
To access David Ezra Stein's website follow the link embedded in his name. This is a link to a recently published article Not On My Watch! he authored. This is an interview about this title at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast with lots of artwork. Did you know he had the completed book turned in at his publisher's but asked to do it all over? Get that story and more from his interview at Pen &Oink.