I finally sat down to read the very first Cybils award winning fiction picture book today, and I saw immediately what all the fuss was about. Scaredy Squirrel, by Mélanie Watt, is a deceptively simply but tremendously funny story. Scaredy Squirrel lives a quiet, routine life in his nut tree. He never leaves the tree because he's afraid of the perils that lie in wait in the outside world: germs, sharks, poison ivy, and green martians, to name a few (would blue martians be less scary, I wonder?). He has a handy little emergency kit, and he spends most of his time on the lookout for danger (when he's not eating nuts, and looking at the view, anyway). But when danger invades his sanctuary, Scaredy Squirrel finds that the best laid plans can crumble. You'll have to read the book yourself to discover how he copes with, and is changed by, his experience.
From the very start, from picture of a nervously grinning Scaredy Squirrel on the cover, this book is irresistible. Mélanie Watt (author and illustrator) is a graphic artist, and her background comes through, decidedly to the book's advantage. Items introduced on one page often repeat later, in smaller format, as icons. My favorite are the killer bees, sparely drawn, but with menacing brows. The germs are also simple, but unmistakable. The bold lines of pictures and fonts are sure to appeal to kids of all ages, drawing the reader forward, eager to see more.
The humor in the book will appeal to adults and kids, too. Watt pokes fun at people who are afraid of everything, but it's a sympathetic sort of fun. We can tell that she's been there, too. We know what to expect from the warning on the very first page: "Warning! Scaredy Squirrel insists that everyone wash their hands with antibacterial soap before reading this book."
I also like the way that the vocabulary in the book doesn't talk down to kids. For instance: "He'd rather stay in his safe and familiar tree than risk venturing out into the unknown." Venturing. Excellent. Kids ought to know what venturing is. Venturing is the basis for adventure, after all (and not coincidentally, I'm sure).
All in all, this is a thoroughly appealing book, deserving of its Cybils award. I look forward to reading the sequel, Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend. I already consider him a friend of mine, with his timid, toothy smile, but I'll be happy to see him make more. Highly recommended for children and adults, ages 3 and up.
Book: Scaredy Squirrel
Author: Mélanie Watt. Learn more about the author at the Scaredy Squirrel website. You can also read a recent interview of Mélanie Watt by MotherReader at the Cybils site.
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Original Publication Date: January 2006
Age Range: 4-8
Source of Book: Purchased it after it won the 2006 Cybils award for fiction picture books
Other Blog Reviews: A Fuse #8 Production (who thought that she would be the last blogger to review this title), A Readable Feast (more a recipe than a review), Port Moody Public Library, 7-Imp, and The Edge of the Forest.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.