I have always rather enjoyed stories that feature talking animals, I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I grew up reading CS Lewis and Brian Jacques and the moral dilemmas, fears, and triumphs of Mr. Tumnus, Reepicheep, Bella of Brockhall, and Martin the Warrior aligned so closely to my own. Though I may not have been out tramping through the woods looking for foes to defeat or sheltering little lost humans, I did struggle with understanding my place in a world much bigger than me. I wanted to be brave enough to stand up for the things I knew were right, and these talking animals showed me that integrity and bravery were their own rewards. Reading these books up in my bunk bed late at night, or out on the front steps in the summer sun, are some of my favorite reading memories!
Imagine my delight when I picked up The Far Corners, by my friend Elaine Gartner and discovered that her plucky, young protagonist is a ginger-furred talking squirrel! I felt an immediate connection with Willoughby Elmsford (as a fellow redhead this was to be expected) and was hooked on this story from the moment he heard the words that would forever change Elderbrook Forest:
I want to know when the night becomes the day.
With this simple sentence, Gartner sets the stage for an adventure that will redefine not only Willoughby’s friends and his woods, but ultimately the entire world as he knows it. Drawing heavily on myth and legend, the story features quests, gifts bestowed by benevolent spirits, an old wise sage as guide, and the understanding that the natural world is very much a part of us, of our destiny. I found this book magically captivating with the perfect blend of old and new. The conversation of our relationship with nature so often follows the same path but here, we come to understand its importance in an entirely new way.
Mother Earth gave our forest its natural magnificence and splendor, but Father Sky gave people their curious minds and expressive hands and hearts. A great union between what nature could offer and what man could fashion flourished.
I would highly recommend getting yourself a copy of this book as it was made to read aloud. The chapters are nice and short, perfectly manageable for bedtime. The animal characters are captured perfectly – just their names and description of their clothes or voices had me matching them up right away! And the empowerment of the feminine (an important element for me) is also quite clear throughout the book, with the legend being passed from female to female and a neat tip of the hat to Virginia Woolf (see chapter 3). I found the story so wonderful that I read the entire thing in one sitting and I’m sure you’ll do the same!