During the first four seasons of his life, the titular gray squirrel learns to embrace his “only-ness.”
This illustrated novel begins with Toaff leaping about treetops, excitedly discovering his innate, gray-squirrel abilities. “Sometimes everything was so wonderful that all you could do was whuffle” (a term used abundantly throughout the book). Toaff’s life has begun in a large, multifamily den on a farm, in an upright, dead tree. A violent winter storm forces him to find new lodgings—by himself. He uses knowledge imparted by his elders to forage, evade and/or escape predators, as well as to build himself a new home. There are many false starts in the latter process, but Toaff cheerfully perseveres. Encounters with other animals, especially with a red squirrel named Nilf, lead him to question some of his accumulated gray-squirrel lore and to become a better person—err, squirrel. With the same agility that Toaff displays in scrambling up his favorite hickory tree, the text intertwines the factual with the fanciful. This includes pervasive, gentle humor, such as these gray-squirrel perceptions: The farm’s humans live in a “big white nest” near their “big red nest.” The text also offers reassurance to young readers that squirrels—unlike humans—likely meet with equanimity such happenstances as the sudden loss of a home—or a mother. The tale’s ending is perfect. The pen-and-ink illustrations support the plotline and the text's borderline realism, and they show the human family of three to be white.
A brilliant, bushy-tailed bildungsroman. (Animal fantasy. 8-12)