Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Friday, October 17, 2014

Way...Way... Down South

For followers of this blog, readers of my recommendations, you know I place a high value on laughter.  My fondest life memories are generally those spent in laughter, especially shared laughter.  To become acquainted with characters whose escapade-filled lives and corresponding dialogue elicit grins, giggles or guffaws is a gift from an author and an illustrator.

We don't want these stories to end.  When they do, it's our fervent hope a sequel, or even better yet an entire series, is in the making.  On September 30, 2014 wishes were granted when James Burks' Bird & Squirrel On Ice (Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic) was released.

When the fearless and fearful pair were last seen, they were making their way south for the winter.

Somewhere high above the South Pole...

I don't like this!
It's cold!
And I'm pretty sure we're...

It's safe to say Bird's flying abilities have taken them farther south than originally intended.  Squirrel's pessimistic assessment is definitely correct.  Within seconds of this conversation, they crash into an iceberg, cause an avalanche which they ride with hair-raising reckless abandon and meet a warrior penguin named Sakari.  She is quick to assume Bird is The Chosen One fulfilling the elements of a legend told for generations in her village.

When the moon is full in two days, it is said The Chosen One will defeat The Great Whale in battle.  This orca of enormous proportions eats most of the fish the penguin population catches each day in exchange for not placing them on the main course menu.  Of course Bird readily falls into his role as the champion for these South Pole residents but true to form Squirrel sees the worst-case scenario.

Ice sculptures, ceremonial regalia and tales of daring-do occupy Bird's days and nights as Squirrel, nerves on edge, knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that doom is coming and coming fast.  With Bird ignoring all his pleas to get help or formulate any sort of plan other than winging it, Squirrel, in the dead of night, seeks Sakari's counsel.  She in turn leads him underground to visit the local wise man...er, penguin.  In the light of the fire Squirrel sees that his worst fears will be realized.

Still in optimum optimism mode Bird does not believe a single word Squirrel says until it's too late.  A warrior and a worrywart need to hatch a winning plan or our daring flyer will be The Great Whale's next tender treat.  Will the trio be trapped by tradition or will they triumph?

As soon as we open the cover and flip the title page, James Burks does not miss a beat, whooshing us right back into the action.  Dialogue driven, with spare narration, the story moves at breakneck speed with purposeful pauses in all the right places.  The clash of personality traits between Bird and Squirrel generate humor and gentle tension.  Introducing the penguin warrior, who has troubles of her own as the daughter of the chief, and The Great Whale with a matching appetite in this setting of ice and snow heightens the appeal of the already-loved duo.  Here is a continuation of the opening lines to demonstrate the relationship of the two.  Bird is replying to Squirrel.

Don't be ridiculous!
I know exactly where we are.
My bird senses are never wrong!  SLAM
My bird senses are telling me we hit a mountain.  CRACK

What was that?
I think we broke the mountain.

James Burks' cover, front and back, tells a story.  On the front Squirrel is not even remotely happy to be on the ice.  Bird, true to his happy-go-lucky self, oblivious to the danger, is fishing as The Great Whale gets ready to have them both for dinner.  On the back the enemy is leaping over a terrified Squirrel, the ready fighter, Sakari, with spear unraised and Bird grinning with glee.

In speaking with Matthew C. Winner, elementary teacher librarian, and host of the Let's Get Busy podcast (which is fantastic), James Burks talks about incorporating panels on top of full bleed pages.  I have to say this technique, which he employs masterfully, increases the sense of the action swirling about you.  Each panel, placed precisely and varied in size, on all his pages are absolutely captivating.  It's like watching a movie; seamless motion.

A color palette, bright and lively, highlights the animated features on each character; features conveying the emotion associated with every single thought.  If the first ten pages don't hook you, you might want to check to see if you have a pulse.  They are absolutely hilarious.  Another sequence I enjoyed is down in the cave when Squirrel is looking into the fire to see Bird's future.  All Burks' wordless images like this tell a story as compelling as the text.

Bird & Squirrel On Ice written and illustrated by James Burks is an outstanding companion to his first title, Bird & Squirrel On The Run!  It has all the thrills and chills (literally), laughter and companionable bantering between the unlikely friends we love.  The I-can't-believe-this-is-happening twists and turns via the penguin village, the chief, Sakari and The Great Whale are top notch.

Be sure to follow the links embedded in James Burks' name and Let's Get Busy to discover more about this work.


  1. Awww! Thanks for the Let's Get Busy podcast shout out, Margie! Great review! Bird and Squirrel is fantastic! Have you heard James sing the B&S theme song yet? http://www.busylibrarian.com/2014/10/welcome-to-my-head-james-burks.html

    1. You're welcome, Matthew! Thank you for your kind words. It's fun to review great books. Yes, I did hear him sing it. I am looking forward to book three in the Bird & Squirrel adventures.