Mindy: [Pointing up in one direction] You really ARE from out there!
Mork [Pointing up in a different direction] No, actually I'm from out THERE. You see, out there [Pointing where she pointed] isn't a nice neighborhood. I wouldn't even go there during a total eclipse.”
-- Pam Dawber and Robin Williams, from the pilot episode of Mork and Mindy
The stranger suddenly appearing in the midst of a community is a common theme. The results can be dramatic, frightening, or funny.
In NUTS TO YOU, a zany animal tale by Lynne Rae Perkins, the members of two distant squirrel colonies are brought together as a consequence of a gray squirrel’s sudden and unexpected relocation to a different locale:
“The problem was the squirrel called Jip. He kept yelling, ‘Wolf!’ just to see everyone run. He had been doing it all day. He thought it was funny. And, a little bit, it made him feel important. Because most of the time no one listened or paid any attention to him. But when he shouted, ‘WOLF!’ up the trees they all went.
“Except for Jed. Jip looked at him, annoyed.
“‘WOLF!’ he shouted again. But Jed stayed put. He was busy. He had nuts to bury. Winter was coming. The first frost was long gone, and the air felt cooler with each passing day. Leaves were falling into crispy yellow piles on the ground. Any day now, there would be snow. Just a little at first, then mountains of it.
“‘Wolf, wolf, wolf,’ Jed said irritably. ‘Is that the only word he knows?’
“Jed did look around to see if there was a wolf. Because he was irritated but he was not stupid. Sure enough: no wolf in sight.”
Moments later, Jip is tongue-tied as he watches Jed being snatched up by a hawk, who imagines Jed to be a tasty lunch. Unfortunately for the hawk, Jed is practiced at a squirrel martial art, Hai Tchree. As they fly along, Jed eventually escapes the hawk’s talons by slipping through them like water, and falls back to earth.
So it is that Jed lands in a pile of autumn leaves, amidst a foreign (red) squirrel civilization, just as humans are noisily approaching the area with roaring chainsaws. They are busy clear-cutting the trees along high voltage electric lines, which the squirrels call “the buzzpaths.”
“Ever wonder how electricity gets to your home? It’s delivered through the grid -- a complex network of power plants connected by more than 450,000 miles of high voltage transmission lines.”
-- from the U.S. Department of Energy website
In the human versus animals aspect of NUTS TO YOU, there’s no simple black and white issue.We need hundreds of thousands of miles of high voltage transmission lines in order to have a steady supply of electricity. The interconnection of far-flung sources of electric generation through the grid leads to the system’s efficiency and reliability. To maintain the grid, trees need to be cut down so that they don't eventually damage the power lines. But what happens to the squirrels and other woodland animals that are displaced in the process?
As the chainsaws approach, hilarious scenes occur when the red squirrels hear and spread Jed’s tale of escaping the hawk and falling from the sky. There are also lots of laughs due to the communications problems encountered by speakers of different dialects of squirrel language. Along with Jed, readers will struggle to make sense of the (phonetically-spelled) words being uttered by these red squirrel “foreigners.”
Eventually, squirrels from the two distant colonies must come together to mitigate the worst consequences of the chainsawing. And while there is scarce interaction between squirrels and humans, the random acts of kindness practiced by one of the tree-cutters provides inspiration for acting kindly toward animals.
As with Mork and Mindy, the net effect of this stranger-in-a-strange-land animal story is a lot of good-natured humor.
272 pages 978-0-06-009275-7 Ages 8-12