Ruth Ohi’s latest picture book displays the same visual humour and comic timing that made her Chicken, Pig, Cow series so successful, but features a new cast of animals.
Fox and Squirrel are best friends. As they frolic about, running from bears, eating berries, and playing in the rain, Squirrel points out all the ways in which they are different, while Fox counters with gentle rebuttals (“‘I live in a nest,’ said Squirrel. ‘You live in a burrow.’ ‘Both are safe and warm,’ said Fox”). After listening to a few rounds of banter between the two chums, Rat asks how, with all their differences, can they be friends? Suddenly Squirrel changes tack, noting their similarities. The story ends on an inclusive note, with Squirrel inviting Rat to join him and Fox as they gaze at the night sky.
The message is straightforward and clear. Adult readers will have ample opportunity to draw on the text to teach young children about accepting differences in others, as well as celebrating commonalities. The slightly deadpan tone, simple sentence structure, and choice of vocabulary all add to the book’s read-aloud appeal, while the interplay between the two main characters and those on the periphery tells a secondary story through the illustrations.
Ohi’s trademark artwork at first appears simpler than it is. Ample white space allows the characters, rendered in saturated watercolour shades of pink, purple, and gold, plenty of room to breathe on the page, but observant readers will note the changing sky and subtleties in shading that reflect the shifting weather and passage of time as shining day gives way to threatening clouds and, eventually, starry night.
There are no surprises or sly twists in this lovely, gentle story of an unlikely friendship, and that’s okay. Sometimes the simplest stories are also the sweetest.