In Johnson’s (The Sword is Whet, 2017, etc.) middle-grade fantasy, a young girl and a squirrel, communicating telepathically, endeavor to broker peace between humans and forest creatures.
A squirrel named Mr. Wollo Bushtail believes that it’s time to embark on the Great Journey—leaving the forest to cross the dangerous place that humans call “the Road.” His subsequent encounter with a “man-creature” is quite a surprise, as the man understands The Speech, a telepathic communication known by all “forest people” (“animals” is considered an offensive term). Because of humans’ destructive nature, the Spirit of the Forest took The Speech away from them long ago. Wollo eventually befriends 9-year-old Sara Springborn and soon learns that humanity, as a whole, is even worse than forest people suspected. This is especially true of Sleemy Verm, president and CEO of Addicto-Chips, who wants to use the friends’ think-speech to transmit subliminal advertisements. Sara vows to save the Great Forest from harmful humans by warning the U.S. president. She also must confront a threat against her own kind: black bear Mr. Wintersleeper King, who can make people and things disappear—an ability that he proves by making a national monument vanish. Sara and Wollo race to Washington, D.C., before humans and forest people wind up destroying one another. Johnson’s thoroughly entertaining tale is a quick but memorable read. Names of characters and places, in particular, stand out, from Mr. Slitherlielow, whom Wollo wisely distrusts, to Saraville, Sarastate, where Sara lives. The story has a strong point of view as well as educational value; the villainous Verm, for example, is a junk-food peddler (complete with an evil taunt: “Nyah nyah nyah...”), and there are reminders that some forest creatures are indeed dangerous (Mr. Wintersleeper King, for instance, promises to eat any hecklers at a council meeting). Other baddies, such as one working with Verm, prove to be genuine menaces to Sara and Wollo, but the two also find an unexpected ally during a harrowing escape.
A diverting tale that champions nature as convincingly as its heroes do.