In this third volume of their adventures, Bird & Squirrel are almost home—they just need to get over a mountain range. Normally, it would be no problem for Bird, since he can fly both of them just about anywhere. However, they hear sounds of distress and stop to investigate. A bear cub is being threatened by a pack of very hungry, vicious-looking wolves and Bird decides that they should stop and help. At the end of the fight, Squirrel accidentally hits Bird on the head with a pine cone meant for the wolves.
The wolves have been driven off, but Squirrel has a new problem: Bird is alive, but unconscious. With the cub’s help, they are able to move on, but when Bird wakes up, he has no memory of who or even what he is. Bird doesn’t know how to fly, doesn’t know Squirrel, and seems scared of just about everything. Squirrel, normally the timid, doubtful type, has to find extra reserves of bravery and determination to help Bird get better, keep the wolves away, and get everyone home.
Kids familiar with the characters will know just from looking at the cover that Bird & Squirrel’s dynamic is going to change in this book: Squirrel is bravely facing down the pack of sharp-toothed wolves, while Bird cowers behind Squirrel’s bushy tail. Burks did an amazing job here of developing both characters in a realistic way, while still maintaining the odd-couple dynamic that produces so much great dialogue and situational humor.
Fans of the first book will like that Burks used a similar Coyote-vs-Roadrunner dynamic to fuel the action. The wolves are very determined and keep trying to ambush the group, much like the cat in the first volume. Each attack is different and they get progressively direr, keeping the plot from becoming stale. A recurring joke, with the bear cub licking Squirrel’s face at unexpected moments (to Squirrel’s disgust) is also managed well and just seems to get funnier every time it happens. Bird’s amnesia is also handled with a light, humorous touch (he keeps asking Squirrel if Squirrel is SURE he’s a bird and not a different kind of animal instead) and will keep kids giggling as the story moves forward.
The artwork is distinctive yet simple enough to be very kid-friendly. It embraces realism in some ways (background scenery is more or less realistically depicted, and with the same level of detail as the main characters) and rejects it in others (Squirrel, for example, is drawn with a square head and bright blue fur). Style-wise, it reminds me a bit of Cartoon Network’s The Regular Show.
Burks portrays emotions in his artwork with even more precision and subtlety than in the first two books. This is apparent not just in drawings of the characters’ faces, but also in other ways; for example, in a short sequence near the beginning, Squirrel is lecturing Bird on the dangers of letting dust accumulate in the home. Squirrel says, “You sneeze… a lot… so much, in fact, that you lose control, stumble around the house in a fit… until you fall out a second-story window… and DIE!” The whole sequence is depicted in shades of black, white, and gray, except for the sneezing sound effects, which are drawn in bright yellow and red. This lets the reader know, through the artwork alone, that the scene is imaginary and that the sneezing is the important threat in Squirrel’s world.
Most elementary-aged kids will enjoy this book, especially if they like funny stories, stories with animal characters, action-packed stories, or stories with unlikely friends. Fans of Frank Cammuso’s Salem Hyde books or Ursula Vernon’s Dragonbreath series should definitely read this.
Bird & Squirrel on the Edge!, volume 3
by James Burks
Publisher Age Rating: 7-10