restricted access Ol' Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein (review)
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Reviewed by
Stein, David Ezra. Ol' Mama Squirrel; written and illus. by David Ezra Stein. Paulsen/Penguin, 2013. 32p. ISBN 978-0-399-25672-1 $16.99 R 4-7 yrs.

Anyone who's ever come a little too close to a protective squirrel's territory knows the verbal abuse that the critters can heap upon trespassers. A champion at the practice is Ol' Mama Squirrel, who has successfully chased dangerous predators (and kites, and airplanes) away from many litters of kits. She may only be the size (and, with her rectangular body, roughly the shape) of a loaf of bread, but she's a full-on ferocious mama bear when it comes to protecting her babies: "No one could scold like Ol' Mama Squirrel. The cat or owl that ran afoul of her would slink off, looking for some easier meal."

When she faces a real grizzly bear looking for a snack, that protectiveness kicks into overdrive. Ol' Mama Squirrel threatens the bear for all she's worth, "Chook-chook-chook"-ing at him while brandishing sticks and leaves and pummeling him with last year's nut harvest. Not deterred by her courageous display of motherly love, the bear is only heartily amused, and he threatens to eat her entire family. With a clarion cry of "Not on my watch, buster!", Ol' Mama Squirrel scoops up her kits and calls in the reinforcements: "'Chook, chook, chook!' said Ol' Mama Squirrel. 'Chook, chook, chook!' said twenty other mama squirrels. 'Chook, chook, chook!' said one hundred more mama squirrels." The band of mad mama squirrels proves that there is indeed strength in numbers, and they successfully chase off the bear for good. Even the people of the town are grateful to Ol' Mama Squirrel for ridding the place of the pesky ursine usurper, and they honor her with a plaque commemorating the event: "If you're ever in town, you should go see it . . . Chook, chook, chook! . . . if you can get anywhere near it."

This is both an amusing ode to the strength of maternal love and an affectionate depiction of the small but sassy squirrel, and mamas everywhere will appreciate Ol' Mama Squirrel's of motherly protection. Kids will be tickled by Ol' Mama Squirrel's equal-opportunity scolding of not only animal predators but also kites, airplanes, and human tree-trimmers, and by her alternately "threatening" and triumphant posturing as deftly depicted in Stein's illustrations. Young listeners will also enjoy chiming in on repeated phrases (such as Ol' Mama Squirrel's dismissive "And that takes care of that" after she routs each potential foe), and they will happily join in on the "chook, chook, chook" of the squirrels' scolding. Both Stein's text and illustrations emphasize the humor of the story: a scolded dog making a hasty exit cries out, "This squirrel is crazy! They must put crazy powder in the nuts around here! HELP!," while the spread in which the wide-eyed bear runs for his life as legions of angry squirrel mothers rocket through the sky towards him is particularly hilarious. [End Page 409]

The art is perhaps the most appealing part in this appealing title. The boxy-shaped squirrels are both adorable and comical, their teeny waving limbs conveying the twitchy-even-when-still nature of the critters. The casual, attractive illustrations, done primarily in shades of yellow-greens, browns, and grays, were rendered by a process in which outlines were drawn with a pencil dipped in ink, then copied onto watercolor paper, at which point watercolor paint and crayon were applied. Stein is particularly gifted at creating effective and funny compositions, looking down on the bear from the nest's vantage point, or sideways at the leaping flock of vengeful mama squirrels; lively circled vignettes add energy to several spreads. The contrast between Ol' Mama Squirrel's fierce expressions and postures and her diminutive size, tiny limbs, big pink nose, and fluffy tail make viewers want to both chuckle at her and cheer for her. The squirrel kits, though in a supporting role, also manage to provide some levity as well, using the hoarded nuts as playthings (one mischievously tries to stuff...


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