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Step with me into the wayback machine as we travel to early 2006 and the publication of Melanie Watt's, "Scaredy Squirrel". Watt's latest is by no means her first book, but it distinguishes itself from the pack. Thick black lines, simple images, and humorous repetition mean that this puppy's a tidy little gem. For those kids that know fear all too well, this book will speak to them directly. As for parents, I present to you a title your offspring can be read time after time after time without you having to fight the urge to rip out your hair in large chunks.

Scaredy Squirrel's world is straightforward and easy to navigate. His tree is safe and comforting whereas everything else on the planet is "the unknown" and therefore worthy of fear. I mean, consider how dangerous everything is. There's poison ivy and martians and sharks and germs and all kinds of stuff to watch out for. Scaredy Squirrel, therefore, sees no good reason why he should do anything other than eat, sleep, and look at the view from his tree's verdant branches all day. He even has an emergency kit near at hand. Then... one day... the unthinkable occurs. Out of nowhere a "killer" bee startles our hero and causes him to drop his kit. Down plunges Scaredy (before remembering the whole don't-leave-the-tree plan) but rather than crash to the ground he finds that he is capable of something entirely new: gliding. Turns out that Scaredy has been a flying squirrel all along and never knew it. Now Scaredy makes exactly one leap into the unknown every day before playing dead for two hours and going home. And for this little squirrel, that's a mighty big step to take.

I liked the straightforward nature of the book. The book limits its words, making it easily comprehensible to its intended audience, but also manages to carry with it a rather grand message. If you stay in your tree all day and never leave you might be missing out. You might also be bored. And by and large, kids understand the concept of "bored" very very well. Then there's the fact that young readers will be able to relate to the hero of this tale. Children, it is generally assumed, like repetition. They like the comfort of an ordered routine. Change is not a small child's friend. So in a sense, many children are Scaredy Squirrels. Consider him the ideal protagonist for such little `uns then.

The pictures are undeniably charming as well. Rendered in "charcoal pencil and acrylic" the thick black lines of the story evoke a slightly more detailed style akin to Mo Willems. Watt knows how to milk a visual gag for all it's worth too. The repeated images of what Scaredy's average day looks like are more than funny. They manage to tread that difficult line between cute and cute-SY. And best of all, Watt brings in good design elements that not only look good but will actually draw the children deeper into the book. For example, there's a passage that covers the advantages of never leaving one's own tree vs. the disadvantages. Each box has a circle where Scaredy is either looking elated or offering a thumbs down sign. Below, each of the bullet points have a cute little picture to illustrate their individual points. It sounds trite, but it works very well indeed.

I can't express just how happy I was when I discovered that this book's message did not render everything ootsy-cutesy. When Scaredy is startled out of his tree by an adorable "killer" bee, he doesn't befriend that same bee by the story's end. There are no long drawn out passages about friendship and why it's a bad idea to jump to conclusions about people. Leave such proselytizing for another picture book. Or, better yet, the sequel, "Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend". The simplicity of this tale (i.e. a little adventure can do the heart good) is worth the price of admission alone. I commend, by the way, the first use that I have seen in a young picture book of the term "killer bee". Just don't be too surprised if your kidlets start asking for child-friendly books on that topic as well.

Consider pairing this book with the similarly charming "Wallace's Lists" by Barbara Bottner about an equally neurotic rodent. You could have an entire small-furry-creature's-fears storytime, if you had half a mind to. If you have to read at least one book by a Quebec-native author, this might be the one to grab. And hey, if you have TV-obsessed kids who need a television tie-in to get them interested in a book, just tell them that Scaredy looks like a distant cousin of Sandy from "Spongebob Squarepants". Whatever it takes to get them to read the book, man. It's worth it.
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on March 10, 2007
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.

This book review was originally published on my blog, Jen Robinson's Book Page, on March 10, 2007.
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on June 26, 2007
Wow. If ever there was a book about facing your fears of change, this is it! Not just for kids, Scaredy Squirrel has a poignant (and hilarious!) lesson for all of us about trying new things and experiencing the world in new ways. A great gift for those going through life changes: new school, new job, new city, new relationship--and definitely a more unique (and did I mention hilarious?) gift for new graduates than the old "Oh the Places You'll Go." And the illustrations are pretty much the cutest thing I've seen since the Toot and Puddle series.
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on August 16, 2006
I laughed my head off when I read my 4 year old this book! She thought it was pretty funny too. I relate soooo much to Scaredy Squirrel as I worry about everything and try to be prepared for everything. The message in this story is fantastic. Because I'm over-the-top like Scaredy, I call the killer bees "Scarey Bees" and playing dead is "Playing Asleep" don't want to scare my 4 year old too much ;) This is a great book for children AND adults. That germaphobe, worrier, non-risk taker in your life can use this book!
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on May 27, 2006
The sophisticated tongue-in-cheek humor and detailed cartoony illustrations (check out the faces on the "killer bees") make this book a standout. The basic story about a sqirrel who's scared to leave his tree for the dangers of the unknown and has to be prepared with an emergency kit at all times is sweet and funny, and the happy ending has enough twists to be a surprise. What I really appreciated was that that the story never turns pedantic - I identified with this little guy and his adventures without feeling like the point was to be taught a lesson about not being scared.
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on February 25, 2007
I just received this book. My 2 1/2 year old son immediately wanted to read the "squirrel book." I called my 8 1/2 year old daughter into the room to join us. She laughed out loud on almost every page. Even though the book is aimed more at her level, my son followed right along for the entire book. This book sort of taught a lesson, about facing your fears, but it was not at all heavy-handed or trite. I know that we will be reading this again and again and I love that it appeals to this broad age range.
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on November 6, 2009
I was introduced to this book at library storytime. The librarians really like this book and the sequels, and the kids there get into it a lot.

Scaredy squirrel is afraid of... well... everything. Mostly the unknown. After all - it may contain sharks! Or germs! Or green martians! Or... KILLER BEES!!!!! So he just stays in his tree. He can eat a nut and look at the view, eat a nut and look at the view all day long. No excitement. No danger. Everything absolutely under control.

Until a killer bee appears, flinging the poor squirrel to the ground. Luckily, he finds out he's a flying squirrel. And luckier still, he knows just what to do. Playing dead, after all, is ALWAYS a good option. So he hangs out there for two hours and goes home, and makes DRASTIC changes to his life. Now, we learn, he goes out into THE UNKNOWN every day for two hours to play dead.

(He's still kinda scared of everything.)

The book is full of diagrams and detailed plans, so read it once or twice to yourself before you try reading it aloud. Be sure to ham it up, too - this is the sort of book that's MADE for frantic mugging and dramatic pauses.
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on April 21, 2009
Mélanie Watt has created the most lovable characters who has a number of phobias. His name is Scaredy Squirrel. Some of the things he stresses over are killer bees, germs, and green Martians. He has a funny routine and is prepared for just about anything.

Scaredy Squirrel is the beginning of a fun series for ages 4-8. I just can't see anyone not loving this little guy.
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VINE VOICEon February 18, 2010
The Turkeybird Speaks(My 3 year old son's POV): "This book is one of those that I just can't put down. My favorite is when my dad reads it, 'wake up, eat a nut, look at a view, eat a nut...', he just does such a good job! Scaredy Squirrel is one of those characters you love instantly, I mean, he's really a flying squirrel! He can fly! How cool is that? And he's afraid of bee's and I am not a fan at all. I once had one sting me and my thumb swelled up like a balloon! So of course you want to stay away from those terrible bugs!

"My favorite part though has to be his emergency kit! He has everything you could ever need in there to keep away all the scary things you might encounter! Although I'm still not quite sure why he's afraid of sharks? I LOVE sharks! But my mom doesn't, so maybe it's an adult thing??? Anyway, the emergency kit! My mom and I even drew one up together. They have one you can print off on the website for the book and it is incredible! You have to try it out! Of course we included band-aids, just like squirrel, because they are my favorite thing to stick to my body (even if I don't have a 'good' reason for it, as my mom would say)!

"This is a definite must read with any guy or girl you know! Pick it up and enjoy Scaredy Squirrel's funny adventure!"

Mom's Two Cents: "The Turkeybird is right, this is one funny book! It was actually awarded the ALA's award for most Notable Children's Book in 2007 and I completely agree. My husband, The Baker, reads to The Turkeybird every night before bed as there time together the rest of the day is limited and this is something they love to do together. Well, at least every other night he asks for this book. I love to hear him chuckle in the other room as he see's Scaredy Squirrel fall from the tree to discover he can fly and that the world outside his tree isn't really as bad as he first thought.

"One of the funniest things about the book is all the crazy things Scaredy Squirrel is afraid of. I love it! Martians, killer bees, tarantulas, poison ivy, germs and sharks. Now, I do have to say, I'm not a fan of sharks, never have been, but Martians? Hilarious! But the truly great thing about it is, I know we all know a little boy or girl who is terrified of something so completely random and impossible that they will never truly be hurt by it, but that doesn't mean they can't fear it. The author mentioned this in her discussion of the book:

From the author: "Mélanie has often noted how the Scaredy Squirrel books helped her work out her own insecurities and fears, as the success of these titles has required her to venture out into the unknown, and like Scaredy she has found the experience truly uplifting."

"In reality, though this book is funny and entertaining it teaches a wonderful lesson to children of all ages. When we stay in our shells, be it our homes or a safe place (a job, a city, a rut, anything), we could be missing out on all the world has to offer us. In Scaredy Squirrel's case it was knowing he could fly and see more of the world around him. Granted he still has some other fears to overcome, but it's all about taking things one step at a time. And who couldn't use that?"

The1stdaughter Recommends: Ages 3 and up. For kids (and adults) who may be frightened to step outside of their front door (or even their comfort zone).

Make sure to visit the publishers website for some fun activities too!
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on July 10, 2006
I first saw a review of this book on, reviewed by an 8-year-old in fact. He really liked it and the theme hit home for me so I picked it up. The story is very cute and shows kids how taking risks can lead to finding out new and exciting things about themselves. The art is uncluttered and inviting. I think anyone age 5-8 could enjoy this book.
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