ERETH'S BIRTHDAY, by Avi
Book Four of the Poppy Stories.
Ages 8 to 12
The gruff but good-hearted porcupine of Avi's Poppy tales gets an adventure of his own, along with plenty of opportunities to fulminate. Spouting lines like "squirrel-splat soup" and "phooey and fried salamander spit with a side order of rat ribbon," Ereth stomps away from his musty log convinced that neighbor Poppy and her large family have forgotten his birthday. Back he comes a month later, having survived heavy snows, hunters' traps, a predatory fisher's attack, and a promise made to a dying fox to care for her three kits. Of course, he finds a delicious gift and a much-relieved troop of deer mice waiting. Avi makes Ereth's sometimes-hilarious efforts to mother the hyperactive young foxes both the story's centerpiece and a sharp commentary on absent fathers. The kits' errant but much-admired dad, appropriately named "Bounder," checks in after a full week to boot Ereth out; too self-centered to care about anyone else, he abandons the kits again the next day. Though the tale is not free of conveniently overheard conversations and other contrivances, it generally moves along at a good clip, builds to a dramatic climax, comes to a joyful close, and features a lively mix of characters and moods. Like Eeyore (with a temper), Ereth will be a source of amusement for his dark moods and gloomy outlook.
"Go take a slide on a sludge pile!" is Ereth's advice to three young kids who have been left in his care by the mother fox, who has been caught in a trap and is dying. Ereth is a grumpy old porcupine that has set out on a journey to find something special for his birthday—like salt. His deer mouse friend has seemingly forgotten his birthday, which makes him even grumpier. His adventures in Dimwood Forest are cleverly chronicled by Avi with equal parts of imagination and poignant sympathy. The story is appealing because the author gives all the animals distinctive personalities and tells the tale with suspense, humor and insight into the foibles of man and beast. The author even manages to tuck in information about what wild animals eat and what they do to survive. Ereth's humorous comments range from "boiled badger boogers" to "you tub of tinsel twist." Brian Floca illustrates the story and makes all the animals real and endearing—especially the three little foxes. —Jean Leggett.
Avi's (Poppy; Poppy and Rye; Ragweed) Dimwood Forest tales continue with this story--equal parts humor and suspense--that puts a non-mouse character in the limelight for the first time. Convinced that his best friend Poppy and her family have overlooked his birthday, Ereth, a curmudgeonly porcupine, wanders off in search of his favorite treat--salt. What he finds instead is an adventure he hadn't counted on: surrogate parenthood. He promises a female fox dying in a hunter's trap that he will look after her three kits until their father returns. Keeping the trio fed and out of trouble proves a Herculean task, one that teaches Ereth much about the ties that bind even as it softens some of his rough edges. His steadfast if grumpy devotion is rewarded when the three save him from an attack by a cunning fisher (a furry, four-legged creature with a hankering for porcupines). Avi delivers another crackling good read, one shot through with memorable descriptions (snow "sleeved tree branches in white") and crisp, credible dialogue. Above all, showcasing Ereth allows the author free range with his cantankerous character's trademark asides ("Babies. Nothing but poop and puke, puke and poop") and outbursts ("Sour snake sauce on spaghetti!"), many of which will have readers chuckling.
School Library Journal:
Ereth, the irascible porcupine first introduced in Poppy, is the unwilling star of this latest foray into Dimwood Forest. Thrown into a fit of pique because Poppy has apparently forgotten his birthday, Ereth waddles furiously off into the forest in search of his favorite treat-salt. Instead, he finds a mother fox caught in a trap; her dying wish is that the aging "porky" take care of her children. Against his better judgment, he finds and helps the three young foxes-and his experience actually softens his prickly nature. Ereth is a fabulously cranky creature with an epithet ("boiled badger boogers!" "jellied walrus warts") for every occasion. His inner battle between his newfound kindness and his desire to be left alone to stew in his own bile makes for an effective, touching, and very funny story. A hungry fisher on the prowl adds an element of danger, as do the presence of 16 steel traps hidden around the foxes' den. The bouncy and irrepressible young foxes see right through Ereth's crusty exterior, although young Tumble is at first resentful of him and wishes for his irresponsible father, who visits when he pleases, instead. Floca's black-and-white sketches of the animals are scattered throughout. This charming tale is a wonderful addition to the chronicles of Dimwood Forest. —Eva Mitnick.