Bird and Squirrel are back in this fourth volume of their adventures. The long-awaited day has arrived: Squirrel is finally back home and ready to tackle all the dust that has accumulated while he was away. Bird wants to celebrate in a more conventional, extroverted way and persuades Squirrel to throw a party to celebrate their return.
However, there are some complicating factors. A mysterious threat is lurking in the forest, which may or may not be connected to a recent disappearance. A crochety beaver has dammed up the stream that used to flow right next to Squirrel’s tree, and a very pretty new squirrel named Red has entered the picture (to Squirrel’s equal joy and discomfort).
Bird and Squirrel have both evolved as characters over the course of this series. Bird is a bit more cautious in this volume (he refers to his “bird senses” when he talks about the possibility of danger) and Squirrel is much more easily able to access his inner strength and decisiveness than before. They’re still an odd couple, though, and have very amusing interactions with each other. For example, when Bird tracks dirt into Squirrel’s freshly cleaned house, he sweeps it under Squirrel’s rug, saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Squirrel doesn’t have any lines, but his facial expression and body language perfectly convey his horror at Bird’s actions.
As the series has progressed, the plot of each book has also evolved to become more complex. In Bird & Squirrel: On the Run! the story was just a repeating Coyote vs Roadrunner action sequence. However, by the time we reach this volume, we find three distinct plotlines that all come together nicely in the end: Their arrival home and confrontation of the new threat; Squirrel and Red’s budding romance; and the cantankerous beaver causing problems with his dam.
If there is a flaw to this story, it’s that Burks draws heavily (relies on, really) the “crazy hillbilly” stereotype in creating the beaver’s character. The beaver is unkempt, wild-eyed, lives alone, talks to a stump that he calls Castor (and makes Castor talk back), and has a distinctive speech pattern. Phrases like “Those be fightin’ words,” “I gots one thing to say about that,” and “And don’t come back neither!” are used. Burks did such a great job creating nuanced characters with Bird, Squirrel, Red, and others that I found this a bit disappointing.
The artwork and coloring are as vibrant and exuberant as ever. Burks has a way of drawing movement and action so it practically leaps off the page. Also, both the controlled vocabulary and simple, logistic panel layout make the plot easy to follow for younger, more inexperienced readers. Burks still has some fun with it, though: for example, as Squirrel goes into another “death scenario” as Bird describes it, this time obsessing about the possible dire effects of not being able to get enough water, a panel is tilted on its side at the beginning. It helps to illustrate Squirrel’s tilt downward into an anxiety spiral.
Readers in elementary school who like funny, action-packed stories will continue to enjoy this series as they reach the fourth volume. Readers who enjoyed Jamieson’s The Great Pet Escape and are ready for something longer should pick this series up.
Bird & Squirrel, vol. 4: On Fire
by James Burks
Publisher Age Rating: 7-10