“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Squirrel's Birthday and Other Parties • Short stories

The Squirrel's Birthday and Other Parties
by Toon Tellegen illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg
Just out! September 2009
Boxer Books Ages 4 and up Short stories
"Beautifully told, quirky, and delightful, and have the warmth of the wonderful Pooh stories. Jessica Ahlberg's illustrations perfectly complement the mood of the writing, they're a joy!" -- Wendy Cooling, author, editor and children's literature consultant
Story: You're invited to the squirrel's birthday party and into a magical world of the imagination created by Toon Tellegen, one of Holland's most celebrated writers. Brief, evocative, thought-provoking and (I truly believe) unlike anything else ever written, The Squirrel's Birthday and Other Parties is rich in unforgettable, even surrealistic images. A squirrel and an ant discover a mysterious feast with an invisible host in the depths of the forest. A whale and a seagull dance silently on a moon-drenched beach. A grasshopper pays a fortune for a speck of dust. Here's a little preview of the writing: "While the squirrel was baking cakes, the animals were choosing what to wear to the party. The elephant put on a small red jacket he had never worn before. The bear wore a large gray coat that was so baggy he couldn't possibly burst out of its seems. The mole looked for something that wasn't black, but he couldn't find anything, so he just put all his clothes on inside out." A collection of nine charming short stories about friendship, dancing, memories, and lots of cake.
Story behind the story: In launching this book as part of their first fiction line, Boxer Books gave it the prescient art direction they're known for: they brought in the ever-talented Jessica Ahlberg (daughter of the acclaimed author-illustrator team Janet and Allen Ahlberg of the JOLLY POSTMAN and EACH PEACH PEAR PLUM among many other children's favorites). So jewel-like...I find myself wanting miniature figurines of her characters, and their gifts, and the cakes -- on the cakes!

ADVANCE PRAISE: "...one of the strangest and most delightful children's imports I've seen in a long long time....we end up with a book that feels like an old friend the first time you turn one of its pages. Like coming home again....feels like a contemporary successor to Milne's Pooh tales....You cannot read this book and understand how anyone but Ahlberg could have illustrated it. She is the E. H. Shepard of the 21st century... a tiny treasure that some will choose to remember for years to come....Here's hoping we see far more of these books in the English language translated for our amusement. A jewel." -- Elizabeth Bird, A FUSE #8 PRODUCTION, School Library Journal blog

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent and are in the works; please check back and click on the comments link below to read what your colleagues have to say about it.


Linda said...

I enjoyed the artwork in this book. It was very captivating and reminded me of Winnie the Pooh, both in story and art. However,the stories seemed to leave the reader up in the air. I read two of them to my fourth grade students and they had difficulty processing the story line. The first story sets the tone but the other ones seem to have something missing. I would give it a 2 out of 5 points.

Julia Pitau said...

Let me start off by saying that when I received this book, it felt like I was holding a mini-treasure. I loved the size of the book and the glossy pages. The illustrations were mostly adorable but a tad too small to truly enjoy. As for the stories, even though I understood the messages the author was trying to get across, most of them left me saying, "Hun?" to myself.

Picnic Rating 2.5

Denair Charter Academy
Denair, CA

Martine Battista said...

I'm not sure what to think of this book. I read the first 100 pages and that was enough for me. The first story is way too long for it's intended audience. I don't think it would captivate young listeners. The other stories have no "Wow" factor at all. The story about the dust speck is completely pointless. I did enjoy the illustrations though. I hope the book is larger when it is officially released. It's too small to share with others. Perhaps there is a cultural reason why I don't "get it." The author is from Holland and these stories have been translated into English. Maybe these stories are written in a style and tradition that I am not familiar with. I give this book a 2.

Denair Elementary library
Denair, CA

Amy said...

When I first opened the package, I was really looking forward to reading this book -- the size was perfect and I loved the illustrations by Jessica Ahlberg. I agree with the other two posters that something seems to be missing in getting the message accross. I am wondering if it is due to the translation from the author's original language. Just a thought, but that may not play a part.

Regardless, it is a charming book, but the stories leave you wanting a little more.

2.5 out of 5.

School Librarian
Houston, Texas

Nikki Mills said...

I enjoyed the detailed illustration for this book, but with such care given to the illustrations I feel the story did not reflect the same level of care. The first story was far too long for it's audience. I don't feel that children will understand night wandering through the woods. The other stories left you wondering what was next, an incomplete thought. I would give it a 2.

Indian Creek Elementary, Library
Placerville, CA

Kathy Farrington, librarian said...

I had mixed feelings about this book. My first impressions about the cover were that while the cover drawings were pretty, I didn’t think it would be very enticing for children. It is a small book so the characters on the front are on a small scale and do not draw your attention to them. I really enjoyed the first story about the animals that Squirrel invited to his party. While I wouldn’t read this aloud to an entire class, I could picture myself snuggling up with my own children and reading it at bedtime. As an adult, I thought some of the other stories were clever, especially the one about the animal brushing off the speck of dust but I think most of the humor would go over children’s heads or would take a lot of explaining. I would rate this book a 2 out of 5. Kathy Farrington, Librarian, Ridge Park Elementary, Conshohocken, PA

Aubrey Heusser said...

This is a very cute book, very well put-together with the words fitting around the pictures. The illustrations are amazing - very simple but elegant. I really like that the author doesn't talk down to children: the sentence structure is complex and the vocabulary is vast. The animal characters will appeal to children from about age 3 to age 8. The stories don't seem to have any point, though. Some are almost like fables, but without the message. Others just don't make much sense. This book has a lot of potential, but I felt that each story needed an ending. I give it a 3 - beautiful but vacant. I'll put it on the shelf, but not especially direct anyone toward it.

Megan B. said...

The Squirrel’s Birthday and Other Parties by Toon Tellegen was an interesting read. Of course, interesting does not always mean good. Many of the stories made no sense to me. The introduction states that the author came up with these stories while telling his children bedtime stories. Well, some of them seem like he was just trying to talk until they fell asleep, and once they were asleep the story is over, whether or not it has a proper ending. With that being said, I did love the first story, especially picturing all of the animals eating cake and dancing together. I also adored Jessica Ahlberg’s illustrations.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Megan Bishop
Hunter Library

EShay said...

As I started the book, I was intrigued. The cover of the proof is adorable and the little pictures alongside the text are really cute. The "package" was charming - it looks like a book for young people. Once I started reading, however, I was severely disappointed.
The stories themselves are a step or so off in my opinion. The first story had great potential, but seemed rather anticlimactic. A couple of the tales are so quirky that I don't believe children of the appropriate age range would understand them.

I sadly give it a 2.

kjhudson77 said...

I also have mixed feelings about this book. I did not particularly enjoy the first story "The Squirrel's Birthday." It is far too long and has too many lists. There are lists of animals, cakes, what clothing is to be worn to the party, etc... The other stories were much shorter and often times leave the ending open for interpretation. These stories have that little bit of unusualness that often appeals to children. They really are homespun bedtime stories that have been written down. The illustrations help capture the essence of each story.

3 out of 5

Kevin Hudson
Library-Media Specialist
Pioneer Elementary
Vancouver, WA

Kelsy P. said...

The Squirrel's Birthday is a lovely and whimsical little book. As other reviewers have mentioned, the physical package -- layout, design, illustrations, tiny size -- is charming and delightful. I agree that not all readers (children OR adults) will "get" the stories, which feature unusual and sometimes melancholy themes that may seem opaque. However, I believe that younger children will enjoy the friendly animal characters and older children can learn to decipher sophisticated imagery and themes by exploring these stories. It's not for every reader, but some will enjoy it immensely.
I give it 3 out of 5.

Kelsy P.
Librarian and Mom, Kansas City

Barbara said...

The drawings and animal characters are delicate and engaging. The book itself is packaged in an intimate size.

As others have mentioned, the length of some of the stories is overwhelming for certain age listeners...so the reader needs to match story to audience.

I agree with other posters about the message not being clear...but maybe not every story needs a message and can be enjoyed for its imagery and word sound?

Rating :2

Stacy B. said...

"The Squirrel's Birthday and Other Parties" was a book that I enjoyed reading as I started, but then as I continued, I found myself losing interest. Most of the stories felt "cut off" without a true ending. I did enjoy the imagery throughout this book especially during the animal dancing and dressing up storylines. I wouldn't recommend this book to most of my students but do see it as a good resource in a classroom/library setting for an example of how to make develop characters in a short story. I would rate this a 3/5.

Carol said...

"He baked thick, moist cakes that were so heavy they could sink through the ground so the earthworms could eat them in the dark - which is where those cakes tasted best."

There are moments when the language leads to opportunities to visualize ideas that wouldn't necessarily enter ones mind...ever.

"Not a breath of wind stirred the clearing. The sun shone, the sugar melted, and still no one appeared."

This collection of Party Stories is not about the narrative. There is no bells and whistles and bling for a story line. Rather, many small moments, keen observations, and simple but honest voice.

The presentation of the book is fantastic. The size and texture insist you carry it around. I feel like I want to tie a ribbon around it. The illustrations are beautiful and expose the same empathy and respect for mother nature's creatures.Jessica Ahlberg's art work is lovely. Reminds me some of Beatrix Potter.

K-8 Librarian
Southwest Harbor, Maine

Mrs. Stearns said...

Louise said....
I did enjoy this little book about Squirrel and his friends. I found it slightly reminiscent of the Frog and Toad stories by Arnold Lobel. These short stories are delightfully illustrated by Ahlberg. The stories tell of friendships between unlike animals and of random acts of kindness. The life lessons portrayed in these stories can be appreciated by readers everywhere. While the stories are entertaining, I found them a little wordy . I agree with previous posts that the stories should be matched to the reader. I rank this book a 2 out of 5.
Louise Stearns, SIU-C
Carbondale, IL

Fuse #8 said...

I've been asked to post the first two paragraphs out of my review, which does touch on some of the concerns you guys have been talking about. In my experience, Americans sometimes have difficulty adjusting to translated children's books. The titles have an entirely different feel, which can come across as off-putting if you're unready for it. Here's my take:

My mother likes to say that "cute is a defense mechanism". That there are creatures in this world that need to be cute in order to stay alive. I agree with this, but I'd argue that there are different kinds of cute out there. There's the saccharine sugary stuff that makes your teeth hurt for a week. There's the instantaneous cute that is so mesmerizing you're actually afraid to look away. And then there's the quiet, understated cute that charms you with its intricacy and delicate wit. How's that for a segue, eh? Well, how else am I supposed to introduce to you what essentially boils down to one of the strangest and most delightful children's imports I've seen in a long long time? The Dutch have been at it again. This time they've conjured up a fellow by the name of Toon Tellegen (why don't we ever name our kids "Toon"?) who for the last 25 years has written more than 300 stories about a little world full of animals. And so we end up with a book that feels like an old friend the first time you turn one of its pages. Like coming home again.

In The Squirrel's Birthday and Other Parties, Mr. Tellegen has written nine stories about the animal denizens of his little world and their various parties. In the first and longest of these a squirrel throws himself a birthday party and creates a huge array of delicious cakes for all the guests (a water cake for the dragonfly, an algae cake for the pike, a small moldy willow cake for a woodworm, etc.). Subsequent stories tell of other parties, both big and little. There is "The Set Table" where squirrel and ant stumble across a delicious table set up by a host so shy he won't reveal himself to his uninvited guests. Or "The Costume Party" where squirrel's gift for costuming proves to be his downfall, leading to an inspired solution. Each story is accompanied by a multitude of delightful little color illustrations. By the time you end, you'll sigh and wonder how it is that you no longer have any more stories to enjoy.

The rest of the review can be found here.

Sarah O. said...

The Squirrel's Birthday and Other Parties is a delightful little collection of stories dealing with all kinds of animals and their various parties.

With all of the animals from all over the world and with each one described characteristically, I wondered if perhaps the author had a background in zoology? Also I thought about how this book would be a wonderful piece to get children interested in animals. It could certainly lead to all kinds of inquiry and answers found at the library and on the Internet.

Something else I enjoyed about this book is the honest display of doubt and insecurity that some of the animals display about their performance of throwing a party. Or the reverse, their display of childlike excitement at being asked to a party.

Lastly, I enjoyed the illustrations - especially of the animals dancing with one another during the parties.

I give it a 5 out of 5.

Sarah Oyerinde

Aspiring secondary English language arts teacher and mother of (almost - one is on the way) 3 children

Marion, Indiana

Sandra Stiles said...

I know I am probably in the minority here but I rather enjoyed this little book. The illustrations were simple and beautiful. The stories at times had to be re-read because they have been translated. The way the story is developed is so different from the way American writers write. I felt like I was sitting in a proper English school listening to a tale. Some of the words were definately too difficult for younger children. My 8th graders didn't understand they writing because they seemed almost unfinished. Having said that let me say the following: My grand-daughter came to visit on the day I was reading this book. She will let me read anything to her, cereal boxes, menues, you get the idea. She popped up on the couch and asked me to read the story I was on "The Set Table". As I finshed I prepared to talk to her about the story, she is only 3 1/2 years old. Before I could say anything she asked me if the dragonfly was shy? I asked her why she thought he was shy and she said, he didn't eat with the ant. Now I know that my grand-daughter is not like many. She has been using words like "plethora", etc. for over a year. But if she could get that from the one story it makes me wonder if all it takes is reading to our children from the time they are born and talking to them about the stories before they can even talk to give them the head start on books like this? I would give this book a 4 out of 5. I have a friend at school who reads things like this to her daughter and I will pass it on to her. I know she and her daughter will find it as charming as I did.

Anonymous said...

The cover of the book is wonderful and I couldn't wait to start reading the stories, but they fell flat. I kept asking myself as I read these short stories, "Am I missing something?" so I cannot imagine children trying to make sense of these books as well. I give this book a 2 out of 5.

angel believer said...

The Squirrel’s Birthday and Other Parties has a charm about it. The charm is in the gentleness that one feels as they read the stories in the book. This charm isn’t enough to make this a five star book. I read the first chapter to three different third grade classes. They enjoyed the story but I could tell that they wanted more in the story. They did love the way that Squirrel mailed his party invitations. The first story is too long. It seems to ramble along just like Squirrel might meander through the woods. I give this book a 2.5 stars.
Mary Lou, literacy facilitator
Cottonwood Heights, UT

Anonymous said...

For the age that this book is aimed at, I feel that the messages are not clear to the reader. At points, even I was scratching my head.
However, the illustrations were very enjoyable and well done.
Students may enjoy this as a self "just for fun read", but as far as educational value, it would be very difficult to use in a classroom setting.
Picnic Basket rating: 3 out of 5

Sara Lestage
Whitehall Elementary School

Susan Appleton said...

I was so excited about reading this book and although I loved the petite,delicate artwork, I found that the stories were very hard to follow. I read a couple of them more than once and still sat there wondering, "what is the purpose???" I just couldn't "get it." I would give the book a 3 out 5.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the artwork in this book and thought it was rather a cute book to read. However, some of the stories seemed to be missing an ending and I was left wondering what was next. There may be something lost in the translation. I would give this a 2 out of 5.

Anonymous said...

Delightful illustrations and the compact size of this book give it a special presence. The stories themselves are whimsical and enchanting. However, there is a zen-like tone to the book that I think will be unappreciated by children. Older children will not be attracted to the "little kid" visual of the book. Younger children won't get it. It will be very hard for this book to find an audience, I believe. I give it a 2.5 out 0f 5.

juli said...

I really looked forward to reading this book, but I found my mind wandering when I was reading. I then began to wonder if the voice of the author was somehow lost in the translation. The pictures were sweet.

The most interesting thing (and at first a challenge to figure out) was the fact that the ARC copy I received is bound completely backwards. My kids who love reading Japanese anime might be able to follow the story better than I. It sure made for a fun discussion with my class.

I give the book 3 out of 5.

denver, co

Heather Hill said...

I was very excited to delve into "The Squirrel's Birthday and Other Parties". The cover artwork and the pictures inside are wonderful, though very small for studying. The short stories are intriguing. I've never read anything quite like them. I think, after reading that the author is from the Netherlands, and is quite celebrated there, maybe something was lost in translation. Either that or these are the kinds of stories that you have to deeply ponder to discover the meaning. I enjoyed reading the short stories because they are unlike anything I've read before. I think I will revisit this collection more than once to figure out its secrets.

I give it a 3 out of 5.

Heather Hill, Reading Specialist
Enterprise Elementary
Woodbridge, VA

Lemon the Duck said...

This book is for sure best read aloud with prosidy. The author has a lot of creativity and stories are cute, but long. I was left confused at the end of them as well.
The artwork was adorable and added a lot to the story.
I would not use this book as a "read to self" option. It is definately meant to be used as a storytelling device. I feel it is limited in that way.
I would give this book a 2 out of 5.
Laura Backman
Hathaway School
Author of "Lemon the Duck"

Anja said...

I loved the sweet illustrations and the fact that Squirrel leaves himself "post-it" notes everywhere. That sounds like folks I know. :-)

It was reminiscent of Beatrix Potter.

3 out of 5

Monica said...

I shared this book as a read aloud (over several time frames) with my first grade students. They enjoyed the animal stories and seemed to concentrate on the "birthday" factor. I shared with my students that I make lists for almost everything, so they could see my connection to the first story about the squirrel and his post-its. They thought it was comical that the squirrel had to remind himself to eat. I shared it with my students much like I would a chapter book since the illustrations were difficult for them to see, but would be a great springboard for a lesson on listening carefully to the text and making their own imagery from the words. Most of my students were not familiar with the vast majority of the many types of animals that were named in the story, but seemed to stay interested nonetheless. I personally liked the format of the book and the layout of text and illustrations. It didn't seem as intimidating as some other chapter books that children might pick up to read. Overall, I would rate it a 3.5/5.

1st grade teacher
Arlington, TX

Anonymous said...

The Squirrel's Birthday and Other Parties is good book for most. I used it in part to share about word use and illustration use for writing process. The size of the book and illustrations pull the reader in. I give it a 4!

Natalie H. said...

Cute illustrations however the story left much to be desired. 1 star.

Molly said...

This is a collection of cute stories about parties, as the title suggests. The Squirrel’s Birthday is the longest piece in the collection and is a heartwarming story about the amount of thinking and planning that often goes into throwing a party both on the side of the host and the guests. I felt it was a little too long for young listeners and readers. All of the stories seem to end in an odd, kind of charmingly awkward manner. Although the language used in the stories is simple, the meaning is not. All of the stories seem to end in an odd manner, which feels charmingly awkward leaving the reader a little confused. The format of the book itself, including illustrations and font color and the glossy paper gives the book a cozy feeling: a classic case of don’t judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to prompt me to put this book in my library’s collection. I would give this a 3/5.

Molly Matchak
Jones Library at Hickory High School


what an inspiring book. Both my daughter and i were in a world of surprise and wonder-the most unusual and engaging book we have read for ages. Quirky,unexpected endings about things one wouldnt guess. We particularly enjoyed the cake that could only be eaten by someone who doesnt really fancy cake! Brilliant.
Recommend reading letters to eveyone and anyone too- we cant wait(literally!!) to get the next book. its 5 out of 5 from us
Alice and Nell