A cast of squirrels investigates a missing tooth in this off-the-wall series opener from Willems.
When lisping Zoom Squirrel reveals that they lost their tooth, the other squirrels work themselves into a frenzy. A tooth? All alone? Oh no! The rodent collective asks for clues and declares it their mission to find Zoom Squirrel’s tooth. As the others’ grand search takes them near and far (albeit in the wrong directions), Zoom Squirrel finds their tooth without help. Or did the tooth find Zoom Squirrel? This reader, a level up in complexity from Elephant & Piggie, offers a similar formula but with a longer page count and a larger cast of cartoony characters. Willems’ signature use of color-coded speech bubbles helps readers recognize speakers amid the increased amount of dialogue. Willems also breaks out of his early-reader mold with the inclusion of backmatter (tooth facts, silly jokes, and a quiz) and a table of contents. While the amusing backmatter effectively blends elements of nonfiction, the slim table of contents comes off as extraneous since the bulk of the story is uninterrupted by chapters. Similarly, Willems’ use of “emote-acorns” to alert readers “when the Squirrels have BIG feelings” is a unique tool for encouraging social-emotional development but questionably effective.
Elephant & Piggie sure are a tough act to follow, but readers will more than likely want to squirrel these new friends away with equal fervor. (Early reader. 5-8)