________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 17. . . .January 6, 2012



Virginia Frances Schwartz. Illustrated by Christina Leist.
Vancouver, BC: Tradewind Books, 2011.
145 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-896580-87-6.

Subject Headings:
Cats-Juvenile fiction.
Squirrels-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Elizabeth Walker.

** /4



Peanut butter! The word was electric. The word was neon. The squirrel leapt out of the sock and ran to the cabinet ahead of Tyler. Tyler handed the creature a spoon smothered in peanut butter. The squirrel flipped the spoon around and around. It licked the peanut butter as if it were ice cream. Its eyes gleamed. As I watched the squirrel swallow the last drop of fresh ground Organic Easy Trade Munchy Peanut Butter, I knew it had licked its freedom away. It would never go back to the trees again. It was a keeper.


What is a pampered cat to do when his human family adopts an injured baby squirrel? That is the problem faced by Amos, the feline narrator of Nutz! With his nose out of joint, Amos must try to keep his place as the favoured pet of young Tyler while foiling both the aggressive neighbourhood boxer Bruno and the pungent rent-hungry landlord.

      Animal narrators are a risky choice in literature: get it wrong and the critter telling the story ends up nothing more than an unusually articulate four-legged human; but get it right, and it can be illuminating. In Nutz!, Virginia Frances Schwartz tells the story of a single-parent family through the eyes of beloved ex-alley cat, Amos. Most of the time, Schwartz manages to portray Amos as a reasonably believable cat, but there are moments when this device is just too obtrusive to the story telling, as when he is able to effectively communicate with his owner, Tyler, through a series of meows. At other times, Amos displays such intricate understanding of human relationships (mother-child, landlord-tenant, principal-student, etc.) that his credibility as a non-human narrator is diminished.

      The main problem with this book is that the plot gets in the way of the story. At its heart, Nutz! is really a story about an unusual boy, his single mother and their warm, occasionally fraught relationship. Tyler and Francesca live in a shabby apartment with an obnoxious landlord; Francesca works night shifts at a convenience store and is barely able to make rent; Tyler frequently gets in trouble at school. Both mother and son have a soft spot for animals, hence the presence of the somewhat crotchety Amos and the eponymous baby squirrel who joins their family. The addition of the squirrel, which turns Amos's world upside down, is unnecessary to the development of the human characters, instead causing the narrative to detour from a cohesive whole to a series of undeveloped comic episodes. Without the squirrel plot line, this book would be a tighter read with more believable characters and events. Nonetheless, children who like animal stories will likely find this a pleasurable read.


Elizabeth Walker is a teacher-librarian in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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