In this children’s book, a boy wonders how to help his friend, a red squirrel, when new construction threatens her home tree.
Johnny, a little boy, is happy to learn that soon, new houses will be built in his area, which could mean new friends. Going off by himself as usual one day, he notices a red squirrel who is busily gathering and eating nuts. She’s shy at first, but Johnny’s quietness builds trust, and she tells Johnny about herself. The boy admires the squirrel’s beauty and calls her Nutting for her love of nuts, her favorite food. The two become friends. Nutting learns to trust the boy, showing him her home tree, and Johnny is always careful to respect her: “She was wild but fragile. Johnny learnt to be gentle and kind. He felt he was the protector and should care for her.” One day, though, the new construction begins, and Johnny is alarmed to realize this will threaten Nutting’s home. He tries to think of a substitute that will keep her nearby. Perhaps the small playground down the road will have a good bush or tree or, failing that, the city park farther away. Though sad for Nutting, Johnny vows to keep visiting her no matter what: “Changes would come, but the two friends were determined to stay together.” Li (Philo, Our Dog, 2013) tells a sweet story tinged with melancholy, though it ends on a brave note. There is simply nothing to be done about the new construction that will destroy Nutting’s beloved home tree, and, unlike many children’s books, there is no magical or last-minute solution that can protect it. Johnny hopes to make something in his backyard out of a carved wooden stand, but his creativity founders on the reality of what squirrels need. This makes his determination to help all the more moving. Li’s softly colored, attractive illustrations effectively underline the story’s poignancy. A small quibble is Li’s unidiomatic use of “the land,” as in “a house built on one side of the land.”
A sensitive tale of loss, friendship, and courage.